What is Sustainability?
The most popular definition of sustainability can be traced to a 1987 United Nations conference on economic development. The conference defined sustainable developments as those that "meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Sustainability requires meeting the fundamental needs that all people share, including those for sustenance, safety, participation, purpose, and autonomy. Sustainability exists when our society is meeting the basic needs of all people today while protecting and maintaining the environment for tomorrow. Sustainability thus requires balancing environmental, social equity and economic demands - the "three pillars" of sustainability.
What is the Sustainable Communities Index?
The Sustainable Communities Index (SCI) is a comprehesive set of measurement methods for indicators of livable, equitable and prosperous cities. The SCI includes over 100 measures that can be used to track diverse sustainability objectives for the environment, transportation systems, community cohesion and civic engagment, public facilities, education, housing, and economic strength, and health systems. Where possible, the SCI methods try to represent indicators at the neighborhood scale.
What is the Value of Indicators?
Indicators are measures of the state of something. We already use diverse social indicators to track progress towards various economic, environmental, or social conditions important to people. For example, the employment rate or the crime rate are examples of widely used and motivating social indicators. Indictors can allow for an informed public debate on social issues. Well designed social indicators can be powerful tools to stimulate collective action.
How were SCI Indicators Selected?
The purpose of the SCI indicators is to improve the health and well being of people and the planet. The SCI team selected SCI indicators to comprehesively measure social, economic, environmental or cultural characteristics or conditions important to human needs and environmental protection. SCI indicators are proxies for substantive outcomes and not simply policies or strategies to achieve these outcomes. Measures are selected based on the following evaluation criteria:
- Appropriateness of scale
- Relevance to human health and sustainability
- Meaningful and motivating
- Responsive to action
What is the Connection between Sustainability and Health?
Sustainable places provide the resources for health. The resources necessary for optimal health and wellbeing include fundamental human needs such as adequate and good quality housing; access to public transit, good schools, and parks; safe routes for pedestrians and bicyclists; meaningful and productive employment with fair wages; unpolluted air, soil, and water; and, cooperation, trust, and civic participation. Better access to these resources increases the chance of living healthy, fulfilling lives and avoiding preventable the diseases and injuries. On the other hand, differences in these resources which currently exist among neighborhoods, cities and countries are the greatest contributors to grave inequities in health and well-being.
Who can use the SCI Indicators?
Citizens, community groups, government agencies, private busineses, and community organizations can all use the measures in the SCI. SCI measures,either alone or comprehensively, can be used to build community awareness about the needs for social and environmental sustainability in a locale. People will be able to compare the performance of their neighborhoods against others in their city or region and recognize and prioritize conditions that need to improve. Advocates and neighborhood groups can use information in the SCI to make evidence-informed arguments to policy makers.
Private developers and public agencies responsible for planning, community and economic development, transportation, and education, can all collect and use SCI measures to select, design, and prioritize their investments. The spatial resolution of the SCI makes it particularly relevant for urban planners.
The case studies page on this site provides examples of and links to real world applications of the SCI.