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About sustainable communities

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An introduction to the components of a sustainable community

Sustainable communities are places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. The Egan Review (2004) examined the factors that go to make a sustainable community and presented them as a set of eight vital components. The components can be set out as a simple diagram called an 'Sustainable Communities Wheel'.

Download: Sustainable Communities Wheel (PDF, 1M)

Looking at the components in detail

Active, inclusive and safe - this means being fair, tolerant and cohesive with a strong local culture and other shared community activities. It suggests a diverse, vibrant and creative local culture encouraging pride in the community and cohesion within it. It also suggests an active voluntary and community sector.

Well run - this involves sound governance with effective and inclusive participation, representation and leadership. Strong leadership is essential if a community is to respond positively to change. Effective engagement and participation by local people, groups and businesses is vital especially in the planning, design and long-term stewardship of their community.

Environmentally sensitive - this means providing places for people to live that are considerate of the environment. It requires a safe and healthy local environment with well-designed public and green space.

Well designed and built - this means providing or retaining a high quality built and natural environment. A community must be of sufficient size, scale and density and have an effective layout to support basic amenities in the neighbourhood and minimise use of resources (including land). Buildings both individually and collectively must meet different needs over time, and minimise the use of resources. A sustainable community requires a well-integrated mix of decent homes of different types and tenures to support a range of household sizes, ages and incomes. The community should have a 'sense of place'.

Well connected - this means providing good transport services and communication linking people to jobs, health and other services. Good public transport and other transport infrastructure is needed both within the community and linking it to urban, rural and regional centres, as well as with the wider national and international community.

Thriving - this involves a flourishing and diverse local economy to provide jobs and wealth.

Well served - this involves providing public, private, community and voluntary services that are appropriate to people's needs and accessible to all. Good quality, local public services should be available including education and training opportunities, health care, community and leisure facilities.

Fair for everyone - this involves consideration of the needs of those living in other communities both now and the future. All our individual and communal choices may impact adversely on others especially in terms of the overall need for sustainable development.

What is a sustainable community?

'A sustainable community is the application of sustainable development principles to places where people live, work and seek recreation'
- Professor Peter Roberts, Chair of the Academy for Sustainable Communities (March 2006).

'Sustainable communities meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, their children and other users. They contribute to a high quality of life and provide opportunity and choice. They achieve this in ways that make effective use of natural resources, enhance the environment, promote social cohesion and inclusion and strengthen economic prosperity.'
- Sir John Egan (April 2004).


Three legged stool

It may be helpful to understand sustainability in the context of sustainable communities as 'a "three legged stool" encompassing environmental, social and economic criteria' (David Lock, TCPA, 2007).

Following this line of reasoning a successful sustainable community balances and integrates social, economic and environmental factors in order to meet its residents' needs now and in the future.

Diagram demonstrating how a successful sustainable community balances and integrates social, economic and environmental factors

Sustainable Communities: people, places and prosperity

Here is how the Government set it out in 'Sustainable Communities: people, places and prosperity' (2005)

'To create sustainable communities that offer people:

  • A decent home that they can afford
  • A community in which they want to live and work
  • The chance to develop their skills and interests
  • Access to jobs and excellent services
  • The chance to get engaged in their community and to make a difference'

And finally, here is how it is defined in 'Securing the Future: the UK Government sustainable development strategy' (HM Government/Defra, 2005):

'Sustainable communities embody the principles of sustainable development. They:

  • Balance and integrate the social, economic and environmental components of their community
  • Meet the needs of existing and future generations
  • Respect the needs of other communities in the wider region or internationally also to make their communities sustainable

Sustainable communities are diverse, reflecting local circumstances.'

Sustainable communities are therefore places where people want to live and work, and want to stay and make their lives. They are necessarily diverse reflecting the wide variety of local circumstances. Nevertheless, they do share common characteristics.

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