Sustainable Community Indicators
  • Introductory exercise
  • What is sustainability?
    • Common terms for discussing sustainability
    • Definitions of sustainability
    • Examples of indicators
  • What makes a good indicator of sustainability?
  • Develop indicators of sustainability
  • Others working on sustainable community issues
  • Data sources for indicators
  • How do we get there?

Talking Points
  • Review agenda and purpose
    • Provide an understanding of sustainability and indicators
    • Learn the many uses of sustainable community indicators
    • Provide an understanding of links among different community issues
    • Learn what makes a good sustainability indicator
    • Provide materials, information and experience to allow participants to work with others on indicators.
    • Learn who else is working on these issues, what they are doing, and where to find data.
    • What are the challenges and opportunities
  • Encourage questions
  • Have participants introduce themselves and state a topic of concern

Sustainable community indicators is a topic that sounds more difficult than it really is. What it really comes down to is this:
  • What is the quality of life for all members--human and non-human--of a community now?
  • How does the quality of life compare to life in the past and in the future?
  • How do we measure quality of life?
  • Do people have good jobs that pay for their basic needs?
  • Is environmental quality a health concern?
  • How involved are people in making their community a better place to work, play and live?
These are all issues of concern for a sustainable community.

Sustainable community issues include issues of health, education, welfare, economy, environment, transportation, public safety... in short, all the different parts that, together, make up a community. Together, with all our diverse needs and desires, we all make up communities.

Creating sustainable communities requires that we understand how our needs and desires are intertwined: a healthy economy helps to make housing affordable; environmental quality affects human health; poverty and health affect how well students learn; well educated workers are necessary for a healthy economy. All these different issues and needs are linked. Together we need to find ways to meet those needs so that our communities can continue to improve and prosper.

There are five primary purposes for this workshop:
  • To give each of you a common understanding of the meaning of some terms related to sustainability, such as: sustainable community, sustainable development, sustainable community indicators, community capital, and weak and strong sustainability;
  • To help you see how your professional or personal concerns are linked to other issues in ways you may not have considered before;
  • To show you all the ways that indicators can be used to help move a community towards sustainability;
  • To provide you with information and materials so that you can go back to your organizations and constituents and help them understand how to move towards a sustainable community;
  • To provide you with examples of other communities that are working on issues of sustainability;
This is meant to be an interactive session, not a lecture. If you have questions, please feel free to ask them. Remember that there are no dumb questions, only things that haven't been explained well enough. This is not rocket science. Sustainability is something that everyone can understand.

Now I would like to go around the room and have each of you give your name, the type of organization you represent, and a short phrase (2 to 7 words total) that describes the issue that you think is key to quality of life. "Sustainable communities" or "Sustainability" is not an appropriate answer; the purpose is to get specific topic areas.

(Note: The facilitator or helper writes each issue on a flip chart at the front of the room. The facilitator should go first to show by example that the issue statement is to be kept brief. For example, the facilitator might say, "My name is Maureen Hart and I work for the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production. For me, quality of life is having clean water to drink and clean air to breathe." Other examples include: time with family, recreation, green space, a good job, and good health. This has to be kept short, particularly if there are more than 15 people present since this part of the workshop should take less than 20 minutes. If people start to take too long, gently remind them that you are looking for a 2 to 7 word phrase.

The purpose of this introduction period is three-fold: First, to give the presenter an idea of the interests of the group. Participants' answers can direct the presenter toward specific examples to use throughout the day. Second, the introduction allows everyone attending to understand the wide range of topics that are involved in quality of life issues. Third, the list of topics will be used as a basis for group exercises later in the day.

Some participants may come up with general phrases that could mean many different things to different people. Examples include: economic progress, economic opportunity, economic growth. The participants should be asked to elaborate on exactly what they mean by the phrase; for example, jobs for everyone, good income, etc.

Once everyone has had a turn, ask the group to look at the list of types of organizations represented and identify the types of organizations who are not represented. Categories may include: youth, homeless, low income families, arts, business, developers, religion, and the medical profession.

The first thing every group needs to realize is that sustainability projects are most successful if they represent a very diverse cross section of the community. This may make dialogue more difficult initially, while trust and respect are built, but diversity is very necessary. If there is time, have the group discuss ways to bring those not represented to the table.)
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