Sustainability – Building Sustainable Communities | NRDC

Sustainable Communities

Environmental Issues: Sustainable Communities


More than 83 percent of Americans live in cities or their surrounding metropolitan areas. In fact, our metro regions comprise 37 of the world’s 100 largest economies. As a consequence, the choices we make for our ”people habitat” have enormous impacts on our well-being, economy, and natural environment.

The good news is that communities create efficiencies that reduce per-person resource consumption and pollution. They are critical to any credible approach to environmental quality. But for decades we have allowed our older communities to deteriorate while allowing our newer ones to gobble up the landscape with suburban sprawl. That must change: by making our neighborhoods, cities and metro regions stronger, more livable and more efficient, we can save money, protect natural systems and dramatically improve our quality of life.

We have an important challenge, but also an important opportunity, right now: over the next 25 years, America’s population will grow by 70 million people (that’s equivalent to adding the population of Germany). And more than half the buildings that we will have in 25 years are not yet on the ground. This is our chance to get things right.

What is a Sustainable Community?

In its most basic form, a sustainable community is one that can continue in a healthy way into an uncertain future. More formally, a sustainable community reflects the interdependence of economic, environmental, and social issues by growing and prospering without diminishing the land, water, air, natural and cultural resources on which communities depend. Housing, transportation and resource conservation are managed in ways that protect economic, ecological and scenic values.

For more on what an ideal sustainable community might look like, visit A Trip to Sustainaville.

At NRDC, we address sustainable communities at three important scales: neighborhoods, metropolitan regions, and city systems.

Sustainable neighborhoods

Most people experience "the environment" first in their neighborhoods. This is where incremental changes are constantly taking place. Sustainable neighborhoods are walkable, offer transportation and housing choices, conserve resources, and provide convenient access to shops, services, parks and schools. Local officials, citizens’ groups, and private business all have roles to play in creating better neighborhoods, and NRDC is helping.

Sustainable metropolitan regions

The shape of our metropolitan regions – cities and suburbs – defines our footprint on the landscape, the length of our commutes, our ability to interact and function economically. A sustainable metro region replaces poorly defined sprawl and traffic congestion with strong central cities and suburbs, efficient transportation networks for getting around, and respect for natural systems. NRDC pursues good metropolitan planning that promotes the environment and economy, distributes infrastructure logically and efficiently, and minimizes intrusion on nature and the working landscape.

Sustainable city systems

While it is critical to engage in holistic planning to improve our neighborhoods and metro regions, it is also important to address important specific issues that affect quality of life and the long-term health of our cities. Innovative approaches are now available to improve, for example, urban stormwater management, food access and health, transportation, waste management, park access, air quality, and other city systems. NRDC is at the forefront of developing and promoting these approaches.

Action Center and Solutions

At NRDC, we develop and advocate sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges facing our communities. We place special emphasis on innovative approaches to improve older neighborhoods, inform plans for residential and commercial development, contain harmful suburban sprawl, and demonstrate sustainable practices for key urban components such as food systems, green infrastructure to prevent water pollution, and transportation. We work for the innovations of today to become the standard practices of tomorrow.

Blog Posts from NRDC Experts

last revised 2/6/2012

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