Sustainability: Planners don’t get it

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I’m a member of the American Planning Association. As a member, I get their monthly magazine, Planning. This month’s issue includes a handringer about the disaster in the gulf – while never mentioning or even seemingly considering – the disaster that occurs ever day as we use oil that doesn’t get spilled and cover cute little animals. Other articles include “buying green” ugh, and climate action plans in cities, with the conclusion that very few places are actually serious about mitigating and adapting to change. Plus “waste to energy” plans! (ha). There is a nice article about environmental justice efforts around the country. read the mag here

The real problem is spelled out in the CEO’s message at the front of the magazine. Paul Farmer writes about the lack of leadership shown by planners in environmental and energy matters. He asks bluntly: “do we really know what we mean by sustainability?”

What a question to ask the planning profession in the year 2010!

Here’s the reason that the question is asked: planners exist to protect the status quo. That’s what keeps them employed. It’s that simple.

Planners will never show leadership on energy and the environment simply because the real situation is far too demanding, the realities far too stark. Instead, we’ll get more articles on “buying green”, ineffective climate change plans, and fantasy “solutions” to the energy crisis.

And more blather about how “sustainability” is meeting today’s needs without jeopardizing tomorrow’s. Blah blah blah. Meaningless.

Waiting for planners to lead us into the future we are inexorably headed to is to wait forever. Planning as a profession grew up in the age of cheap energy, economic growth, and a stable climate. There is no way for the mindset to adapt to the new era.

For the record, here is my definition of sustainability – a practical way to tell if, yes or no, we can last in a place:

For a community to be lasting, it must have secure sources of food and water, materials to provide shelter and clothing, effective sanitation, a healthy and balanced local environment, low energy needs, and adaptability to a changed climate.

It all begins here. This is what people need to live. Everything else must wait until these prerequisites are met and lasting. Everything else! Notice I didn’t mention education or jobs or parks or roads or entertainment or bike trails or art or sports. If we do not have the basic prerequisites, we do cannot thrive at anything else.

We modern people don’t remember we are all of the earth. The time is coming when we’ll be harshly reminded. We need to be ready.

By my definition, how are we doing here in LEX?


1 Comment

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One response to “Sustainability: Planners don’t get it

  1. Tim

    Nice analysis, Steve!

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