Sustainable Planning: Planning vs Action


Progress and Perspective

We began by discussing the static nature of the “sustainability” definition as “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (according to the WCED).  Shouldn’t the definition have morphed to reflect or progress in sustainable development? To answer this question, the idea of perspective arose; who is guiding the discussion? Do you think a more narrow/refined definition of sustainability would be helpful in practice or would be too limiting in bringing more stakeholders to the discussion?


The question of perspective was then furthered in discussing the use of “code words” as a metric in evaluating plans. These code words can be fairly nuanced and have different connotations for various stakeholders (ie. A community organizer will have a different definition of “livable” will be very different from an architect). As a class we discussed the possibilities for these ‘code words’ to be manipulated, however it at least brings discussion of sustainability to the table. Do we think there is a need to have a more concrete definition of these “code words”? Would should define these code words?


The Gap: Theory and Action

While we have the tools to now measure our consumption, does that translate into action? Berke and Conroy use the term “innovative land use” which is problematic. It implies that a new and drastic shift has occurred in land use planning. Have we come far enough? How do we make the problems more tangible and prompt people to take action to be more sustainable? Two examples were given as possible models to spur action – Green Business Challenge ( and Greenovate Boston (  Do we think the scale of these innovations are situated to spur change?


Footprint Quiz

As a class we took the footprint quiz and realized many of the individual choices we make don’t actually effect our consumption as much as larger institutional factors. While we all knew that living the US inherently means we consume more (ie. Military, infrastructure, ect) regardless of our individual choices, taking the quiz made it more apparent.  This again brings up the question of scale which has been a reoccurring theme in our discussions.  Did taking the footprint quiz spur anyone to make any active changes in their daily lives? If we as people very aware of sustainability’s importance don’t take action, who should expect will? 


4 thoughts on “Sustainable Planning: Planning vs Action

  1. Thanks for the summary. The issue of definitions and the use of language is always an interesting one. I think that some issues would become more powerful through specific definitions because there’s a danger of an issue being altered or even perverted depending on political factors. When it comes to policy, stricter definitions are much more helpful to avoid loopholes or policies that go off-course. Like many past articles, some groups have created principles (like a platform) so that the complexities of issues like sustainability can be teased out.

    From an organizing perspective, ideas are all about framing and messaging. If we worry about excluding certain key players or issues due to how specific our definitions are, perhaps that’s an issue of catering our language (framing and messaging) to target specific audiences (that aligns with a set of principles). Another question – is language the main barrier, or is it about education and knowledge? What about language and its intersection with politics and power?

    And more concretely, how do these challenges around definitions play out in reality? What are some concrete examples of actual challenges? I’d be interested in learning more about how definitions and code words related to sustainable development have actually impacted environmental policy or programs in positive or negative ways.

  2. Thanks so much fro the class summary.

    With regard to the definition of sustainability, I think it was addressed in previous class. I tend to make it border as a definition that can include more aspects of sustainability yet it has to be broken down to specific elements to be more solid and concrete. An interest aspect is to contextualize the problem, and only then the answer will be easier wither we need a broader definition or very specific one.

    I think the foot print quiz is very important, although it does not take into account numerous factors, but it is an amazing start and can be developed further as a tool. The interesting part about it is that it remains in the (building awareness) side and might not influence the policy makers much.

    Once more, scale is brought to the discussion; either institutional scale (central, Vs local government and implementing agencies) Vs special scale. This point have been addressed in previous classes and just bringing it up almost every class shows its importance and that it shall be incorporated in all our thinking in all sustainability challenges.

  3. edermartinez

    Thank you for the class summary.
    I think it is also important to see how these code words are translated into reality.
    You can have a great sustainable plan which includes all those beautiful words but is this plan being implemented on the field?, or what are the outcomes/improvements related to its implementation, how can we measure improvements without having a baseline?

  4. skonala254

    The discussion on “code words” in class was very interesting. While there is a concern that words can be manipulated, I think that leaving the definitions more ambiguous allows for discussion and debate. You brought up the word “livable” in your blog post and I can definitely see how this word can have many connotations/definitions. Some of these definitions may be in direct opposition to each other. For example, someone who prefers to live in the suburbs would have a very different definition of livable compared to someone who prefers to live in an urban area. A suburban resident may define livable as having access to a car and free parking and an urban dweller could define it as having access to public transportation.

    Neither definition of livable presented above is wrong. People’s definitions are adapted from their own experiences and they are allowed to have their own viewpoints. When using “code words” as metrics in evaluating plans, it is more important to be clear in defining the terms but this should after a public process that allows for discussion on how the word is applied to particular place/area.

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