What Is Sustainability? - October 9, 2012

"Santa Fe County has approved a Sustainable Land Development Plan that outlines a vision for the area’s future"

Sustainability is a very fundamental ecological, social and economic concept. It affects every level of human activity from the local individual and neighborhood to the entire globe. Sustainability is intended to mean the organization of human activity so that society and its members are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving natural ecosystems and planning and acting to maintain these ecosystems indefinitely into the future.

The first question is how do you specifically define what is sustainable? Economic needs are readily ascertainable. Can it be afforded or is it a money loser? Social needs will change depending on the culture of the society involved. The Middle East, the U.S. and China are very different, for instance. There is also a difference between urban and rural needs. Ecological standards will vary. There are large questions about the resilience that an ecosystem has and there will be constant and shifting debate on those standards.

Over the past few decades an increasing number of sustainability  initiatives and alliances have emerged to improve the livelihoods of the millions of commodity-dependent producers and manufacturers around the world. The growth of such initiatives represents an important opportunity for all to participate in the greening of global supply chains and the improvement of producer livelihoods.

Locally, Santa Fe County has approved a Sustainable Land Development Plan that outlines a vision for the area’s future as it relates to land use, spelling out general philosophies about water use, density, lot sizes and other similar issues. The new Santa Fe County Sustainable Land Development Code (SLDC) presently before residents for discussion, and then the County Commissioners for ultimate approval, contains rules and regulations that will implement the ideas in the plan. The code will impact everyone as it sets forth procedures for a development future that  will be different, if approved, from anything used in the past. Sustainability has many aspects, but at the very least, it implies in SLDC that development will be more self-reliant and more efficient. Whether this is true and how it will all work out, remain to be seen.

The plan was adopted amidst some controversy with some residents criticizing its costs, fearing it threatens to infringe on property rights and could lead to higher new home prices, higher costs and taxes. Supporters say the plan will help Santa Fe County develop in a way in the future that balances environmental, residential and business concerns for years to come. 

The code establishes rules for how property is used and developed. Plans for future growth, development, and redevelopment cannot be implemented if the code does not allow the desired uses and development patterns, or if it puts unnecessary roadblocks in the way of their approval. 

Clearly all perspectives need to be considered and an appropriate balance needs to be drawn between the needs of the community as a whole and individual rights and the reasonable expectations of property owners and their neighbors.