Community health, a foundation for sustainability

| by Lois Vitt Sale
Community health, a foundation for sustainability

Do you take for granted that your sidewalks are maintained in decent shape, that someone will mow your public park, that the drinking fountain will be turned on at the end of winter? Do you walk your children to a playground with swings and slides and expect to find the trash bin there emptied? Do you expect someone to replace the burnt out bulb in the streetlamp on the corner? And if it isn't replaced, will you call someone, complain about it and expect to be heeded? If something in your neighborhood is amiss, will you drum up a cadre of like-minded citizens to ensure that the quality of your community is maintained? Our society's belief that our communities should be safe and usable for our enjoyment and well being is a prerequisite to sustainability.

A recent trip to the city of L'viv, Ukraine highlighted the importance of community and connections to living sustainably. The city of L'viv is located in the western region of Ukraine that is bordered by Poland and Hungary. L'viv is a city that dates back to the 1200s with a rich history. For decades, under the domination of the USSR, the state owned and ruled everything and maintained everything (or didn't). As Ukraine regained its independence 20 years ago, ownership began to transfer from the state to private citizens. In the city, ownership of apartments was conveyed to their residents, but who owns or maintains the common areas in those buildings is still unclear. As a consequence, there is a jarring difference in the state of the common areas — both interior and exterior, and the well-maintained privately owned spaces within those same buildings. You can move from a beautifully maintained apartment into a dirty hallway with no lights or functioning elevator. And this is not unusual to city life in L'viv.

Newly constructed suburbs echo the same theme but it manifests differently. In the suburbs, fields carved into treeless lots provide spaces for new brightly painted and plastered houses. But the roads to the houses are pocked with potholes. And the homes are built in groupings with no diversity of uses to serve the community's economic and spiritual vitality. No sidewalks. No grocery store. No post office. No school. No church. No trees. No park. All this sameness tied together with a nearly impassable roadway. Driving down a road in one of the suburbs on my visit, I felt that if I lived there I would feel abandoned.

In living sustainability, we take for granted the community infrastructure that supports our ability to decrease the size of our footprint. The local recycling programs, the building permit that requires silt fencing to prevent erosion when a neighbor's home is under construction, the bike lanes that criss-cross your town to allow you to bike safely. Look around you today and see how your community supports sustainability.

Topics: Sustainable Communities

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