Earth Week a reminder of the true meaning of sustainability - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Earth Week a reminder of the true meaning of sustainability

Sustainability advocates have a lot in common with holistic doctors. We understand that the “leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,” so to speak, and that diagnosing any problem requires evaluating the entire system. Much like our bodies, our communities are comprised of interconnected parts, each working in partnership with the others to support a stable whole. When one or more element is weak or absent, the others must bear a greater load – ultimately, an untenable situation.

As Warren Karlenzig, a leading sustainable planning expert and former CSO of SustainLane, put it in a recent post on his blog, Green Flow:

"If we view our urban areas as living, breathing entities – each with a set of basic and more specialized requirements – we can better understand how to transform our communities from random configurations into dynamic, high-performance systems. The ‘metabolism’ of urban systems depends largely on how energy, water, food and materials are acquired, used and, where possible, reused. From these ingredients and processes (labor, use of knowledge) come products, services, and – if the system is efficient – minimal waste and pollution.”

His vivid analogy is a reminder that creating truly sustainable communities requires investments and policies that are right-sized, goal-driven and coordinated and that meet the six livability principles at the foundation of the Obama administration’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities

  • Support existing communities.
  • Promote equitable, affordable housing.
  • Value communities and neighborhoods.
  • Provide more transportation choices.
  • Enhance economic competitiveness.
  • Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investments.

MPC is working in partnership with the public and private sector, as well as with communities across metropolitan Chicago, to be a region that embraces these principles (as well as a seventh principle we would add, “Conserve natural resources.”) By doing so, we believe we’ll emerge from the recession more sustainable in the truest sense of the word – more “dynamic, high-performing and efficient;” more resilient to climate change, prolonged drought, and other environmental challenges; and less at risk from oil crunches, economic downturns, and security risks.  

In April and May, we invite you to “tune in” to MPC's blog series "Planning for Sustainability" to learn more about our work to support a sustainable region.


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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