How Can Small Communities Engage In Sustainability?

How Can Small Communities Engage In Sustainability?

To meet the needs of their citizens, cities and townships strive to find solutions and resources in a challenging environment.   Public servants must respond to all aspects of providing service, while maintaining a secure environment and upholding the right to quiet enjoyment of property. They meet public health needs, and aspire to prosperity through economic development. The reality for small to mid-size towns is that there are many needs in the community and limited resources with which to address them all. With scarce resources, particularly in sparsely populated areas, only basic community services are provided. Maintaining roadways and provisioning for emergency response is a critical focus. Zoning, building permits, public health and governance is typically managed at the county or parish level, so the community officials have little control over funding and direction of main programs. But there is budding recognition that the sustainability equation touches many aspects of affordability, social equity, and is the responsibility by public stewards to maintain our natural resources.

For small communities, formulating a Sustainability Action Plan can feel like staring at a blank page and feeling the effects of writers block. They are hundreds of paths that can be chosen, but only a few are right for any unique community.  The industry has many influencers, motivators and toolkits to help cities at the beginning of their process, but the dilemma that an elected official experiences is that the industry has written very little lately for the small community.  As the sustainability movement pushes into its second decade, most articles no longer speak to those communities at the beginning of the innovation and adoption curve.

So the question is where to begin?  How can we take these ideas, which may initially seem unpopular, unrealistic, or obscure and push forward an agenda that will lead to the betterment of the community without sacrificing political capital and the approval of voters?  How do you get more people believing that they can do their part to improve climate resilience?

First, we assume that the primary needs of your community have already been developed.   Most communities have a document developed in the last ten years entitled Long Term Strategic Plan, Zoning & Development, or even an Elected Officials “state of the community” address.   If you do not have a recorded plan, or it needs revamping, then sustainability action planning should be postponed.  Your community will need to understand fully its primary needs first. Do not take your eye off the ball.

When you are ready, try not reinventing the wheel.  Instead, use familiar management principles for setting goals and objectives with a trusted team.  A prioritization session can kick off the process.   Focus on a good start, and gain momentum every step of the way. Consider some of the following questions as you prepare to establish your priorities.  Who should be involved?  How can we incorporate sustainable ideas in our current city plan?  How long should this planning process take? Narrow your focus and build from early success. Broad-based planning is your first opportunity for error.  

Next, consider what common sustainability objectives you would like to address.  Do you want to reduce energy, conserve water, or eliminate wastefulness?  Which of these concepts resonate with your leaders?  Encourage your council to think of their surrounding natural resources, the density of the community, air quality and overall health and wellbeing of a community.  Community plans must be customized, and unique infrastructure, circumstances, population, and the administrative make-up will shape your plan.  

The challenge is real, but HlpSum1 believes that crafting a Sustainability Action Plan is not just an exercise completed by big cities and Fortune 500 companies. We encourage you to get started, somewhere, and stay excited about the journey.