Distressed cities, fragmented open space, damaged ecosystems and climate change are vivid and powerful reminders of the unsustainable development patterns and policies which have produced harm to both our society and our planet. Sprawling development and the continual movement of opportunities, investment and people away from our city centers destroys rural and natural landscapes, while accelerating long auto commutes which accelerate CO2 emissions. In our cities, continual disinvestment and the flight of resources to the urban fringe produced extreme isolation for marginalized communities, resulting in segregation into distressed unhealthy environments where they are isolated from the critical life sustaining opportunity structures needed to survive and thrive in our 21st century society. While farmland is being paved over for new housing and roadways, poor marginalized communities can’t find access to healthy produce. A massive investment in new infrastructure is occurring for suburban growth, while existing infrastructure is neglected in our urban areas. New housing and commercial construction on the urban fringe, contrasts sharply with neighborhoods pockmarked by vacant homes and abandoned businesses. Local policy, jurisdictional fragmentation and interregional competition interact with all of these processes, often working to promote unsustainable growth and unhealthy communities. The development model which has fueled our economy in past decades and reshaped our communities, the nation and the globe, represent a broken and unsustainable system which must be reshaped to produce sustainable development, sustainable livable communities and an equitable healthy society.
Given this pressing need for a new model of sustainable development, the sustainability movement has accelerated in the United States and globally. Global challenges, like climate change have added new urgency and awareness of the need for a new model for our communities, nation and the globe. As planners, advocates, and policymakers look to produce more sustainable communities, we face multiple interrelated challenges. We face environmental challenges in mitigating the environmental harms produced by certain types of development. We must address social, racial, and geographic inequities, as certain communities are deprived of investment and opportunity. And we must also work to create a vibrant economy, attract investment, and stimulate economic growth that is beneficial to all residents.