Implementing a Local Sustainable Development Program

Advocates of sustainability are fond of the motto "think globally, act locally" with the implication that a multitude of local actions can have global effects. If the three Es of sustainability are environmental quality, social equity, and economic development, as noted before, what can a locality do to promote them?

The municipality can use its land-use controls to protect environmentally fragile areas and, more generally, to provide for its total of residential and commercial activity with a minimal footprint. Implementing green building standards (see Chapter 15) can reduce the amount of power used for heating and cooling. Solar access zoning and an accommodative rather than a resistive stance toward wind-generated power if it is technically feasible in that area can contribute to slowing down the progress of the greenhouse effect. Urban design that minimizes vehicular mileage can also help, as can land- use policy that favors housing types that consume less energy. The potential for a district energy system (see Chapter 15) could be considered. Brownfield redevelopment may be favored over greenfield development.

In this writer's opinion there is not a great deal that can be done with regard to equity at the local level; the really big questions like the distribution of income and access to medical care are clearly national issues, but a certain amount might be achieved in connection with housing, as discussed in Chapter 11. As noted there, how much a single municipality can achieve in this area is limited by tax rate considerations and the fact of intermunicipal economic competition. If the municipality has an economic development program it may try to tune the program to meet the labor market needs of some of its least privileged residents rather than just focusing on total jobs or total additions to the tax base.

So far as economic growth is concerned, the municipality can pursue an economic development program as discussed in Chapter 13. But, as implied in that chapter, there is a question as to whether local economic development efforts contribute very much to aggregate economic growth or whether they largely redistribute a total that is more or less determined by other factors at the national and international levels (monetary policy, fiscal policy, tax policy, trade policy, and the like).

The following box lists a wide range of categories of local sustainability practices in current use.

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