Typically, when speaking about sustainability, I preface my thoughts on the issue that my definition is not simply one that is based in environment. That in addition to the environmental issues faced, we must also look at how we align economies and societies to be more sustainable as well. In China, this definition tends to provide a level of tangibility that many are seeking as they look for a “reason” to be more “sustainable”, however I have recently begun to think that there is a fourth pillar that must be included: Community.
Different from the size, breath, and depth of “societies”, the role of community, and more importantly the sense of community, is something that I have come to appreciate through my experiences living in a wide range of cities. That, at a fundamental level, a city whose residents have a higher sense of community, will not just have a higher sense or awareness of sustainability, but will at their core act (without the expense of education and enforcement) in a manner that is more sustainable.
On one level, this is someething that is achieved by urban planners, and the decisions the make to plan for the building of parks, walkable streets, and other common spaces that bring people together. Spaces where a sense of security and community exist. An example of this being Central Park in NYC where the space itself is a draw for a wide range of people (joggers, artists, sports teams, couples, families, and so) who see the space as a common spot for recreation and relaxation. Something that rarely works in the suburbs, where ball parks and malls serve as the most likely community meeting point, but neither effectively engages on the same level or creates a tighter sense of community as these facilities are rarely part of the immediate community
At another level, the sense of community is developed on a personal level through the interactions that residents have with one another. In the suburbs, like the ones where I grew up, residents of a subdivision (group of houses) are far less likely to know their neighbors than were they living in an dense urban environment, and while the occasional block party or lemonade stand may bring a larger group of residents together.