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November 2010 | Volume 9 Issue 6   


    Sustaining Affordable Homeownership
    How Sustainable is Your Community?
    Building Green in Arlington, Virginia

How Sustainable is Your Community?

According to a recent survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association, a strong majority of local governments consider sustainable practices to be key priorities within their communities. However, from the 2,176 localities responding to the survey, only 29 percent have put sustainable goals into action. This article will highlight a new online tool, which aims to assist Pittsburgh regional jurisdictions in identifying sustainable policies and see them through to fruition.

A view of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Jason Cohn.Sustainable Community Essentials Rapid Assessment

Sustainable Pittsburgh created the Sustainable Community Essentials Rapid Assessment to compliment our work at both the local government and regional levels,” explains Executive Director, Court Gould. The online tool provides southwestern Pennsylvania residents, in 551 municipalities within the 10-county region, with an opportunity to evaluate their community’s sustainability while also becoming versed in identifying sustainability indicators. The assessment is made up of 14 components, including energy conservation, air quality, community design, water management, housing choices, and healthy communities. Each category is given a description on why the category is essential to creating a sustainable community, a guide on how it can be measured, actions for implementation, and a case study showcasing examples of real world applications.

Results of the assessment are two-fold; residents are given a sense of their community's progress in applying sustainable practices and the residents are also provided with a bar chart that visually illustrates their community's sustainable policies and practices. Residents are encouraged to share their results with other community members, attend town hall meetings, and start conversations with municipal leaders in an effort to hasten the community's goal toward sustainable development at the grassroots level. If interested, residents may also submit their results directly to Sustainable Pittsburgh. The organization will then aggregate assessments and periodically reach out to municipalities, and provide them with feedback on how their residents perceive the community's sustainable efforts. "Sustainable Pittsburgh will be taking the Rapid Assessment directly out to municipalities around the region. Sitting down with municipal managers to walk through the assessment will provide insights to help tailor assistance, training, and inter-municipal sharing individually and across our region," says Gould.

Additionally, the information obtained through Rapid Assessment will be shared with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability — a membership of over 600 local governments committed to advancing climate protection and sustainable development — and processed through its STAR Community Index. Inspired by the success of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), STAR was developed as a national, consensus-based framework for gauging the sustainability and livability of U.S. communities. Similar to LEED’s impact on the building industry, STAR is expected to transform the way in which local governments set priorities and implement policies by measuring their achievements, and ultimately, improve their sustainability performance.


Sustainability is multidimensional, requiring indicators that assist communities in identifying problems while illustrating its benefits to the community as a whole. “This new tool will help communities articulate a vision and define goals and steps to put sustainable community development initiatives in place. It will enable us to track individual community progress and also aggregate and assess regional progress,” explains Gould. Implementing similar tools throughout the nation can assist more localities in putting their sustainable goals into action.


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