Imagine walking out your front door in the morning and not having to drive to work. Imagine knowing you neighbors and having a relationship with the members of your community. Imagine sitting in an office surrounded by plants with the sun providing natural light. These dreams of a simpler life lie at the heart of environmentally sustainable development. With vision and a conscious effort to change the way we live, Columbus could reform itself into a green community.

In order for Columbus to start on the path toward sustainability, the citizens of Columbus must abandon materialistic desires and live respectfully with the natural environment. In Peter Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, Hawken states, “Society must recognize that ecological principles apply absolutely to human survival, and that if we are to long endure as a world culture, or as a group of local cultures, we will have to incorporate ecological thinking into every aspect of our mores, pattern of living, and most particularly our economic institutions.”

The city of Columbus could re-evaluate the ways in which it uses the land and resources to decide to use them in ways that would be beneficial to the greater community. For example, instead of building another mall, hotel, or convention center, use that space for a community center or a shelter for city residents when they fall on hard times.

Or the city could just abandon the construction of new building structures altogether and return to nurturing what the land could naturally provide. Many cities are built atop lands that could better be utilized for cultivation purposes. This would promote sustainability by eliminating the financial and environmental costs of importing food from other parts of the country. The city’s reliance on its own natural capital would also stimulate the local economy. Timothy Beatley and Kristy Manning echo this sentiment in their 1997 book The Ecology of Place: Planning for Environment, Economy, and Community, saying, “There is considerable evidence that cities and regions that protect the local and regional environment have a better chance of faring well and prospering economically.”

A large part of reaching the ultimate goal of sustainability involves the elimination of emphasis on what the desires of the individual are and replaces them with the common goals of the community. This can be accomplished by establishing a time for members of the community to bond by sharing their cultural experiences and historical knowledge. Education can lead to an understanding of others’ perspectives that in turn can positively influence individuals to improve the condition of their environment. Empathy could force people to see that their environmental impact has a direct relationship to the quality of life for other members of the community.

The web site “Principles of Sustainable Livelihoods” defines sustainable communities as follows: “Sustainable communities encompass a holistic set of values that are non-exploitative, promote participation in decision-making, emphasize the quality and creative nature of work, place needs over wants, and foster healthy, mutually beneficial relationships among people and between people and the environment.” The city of Columbus could become a more sustainable community if it were to cease allowing large retail chains and malls to sprawl across the city. Instead the city could use the space for more low-income housing, community centers, and schools. The city of Columbus does not need another shopping mall.

Columbus could also promote sustainability in other ways. Many buildings within the city cover large areas of land and would be ideal for generating solar and wind power. The statehouse and the buildings throughout Ohio State University immediately come to mind. Wind and solar power reduce environmental impact and improve the physical, mental, and emotional health of those who live, work, and play in them.

The most important change Columbus as well as other cities need to make to promote sustainable living is to move more people into the city by organizing EcoVillages. These villages of clustered homes and a common house for business meetings and socializing are self-sustaining. Land is set aside within the village for organic gardens that provide nourishment for the village’s residents. In addition, allowing more people to live within the city will reduce the number of commuters thus aiding in solving the traffic congestion problem. Fewer cars cause less air pollution which promotes sustainability.

Finally, individuals can lead more sustainable lifestyles locally and globally by giving rather than taking. Ervin Laszlo, author of The Choice: Evolution or Extinction? A Thinking Person’s Guide to Local Issues says, “Live in a way that would allow others to live as well.” Imagine what could be done if every person walked the block to the store instead of driving. Imagine if people built their homes up instead of sprawling them out, destroying valuable land. Imagine if everyone cared a little more about the future of the environment rather than consuming as much as they can and ignoring the consequences of their actions. Imagine…

Appears in Issue: