“Sustainability” Is that 5 or 6 syllables?

It can be mind-boggling to the housewife or the city planner alike.
How sustainable is our community you may ask? As a resident of UniverCity, perhaps you have given up trying to figure out, grapple, what it means…I mean really. You recycle, reduce, reuse.

These are great individual actions!

How about on a community level? Often we leave this up to the planners, the developers, and the “tree huggers” who have “nothing but time” to advocate.

In fact there are reasons for the frustration.

I’m reading a book right now by Wendy Sarkissian that breaks down the common misconceptions and mistakes in sustainability. “Kitchen Table Sustainability: Practical Recipes for Community Engagement with Sustainability” Many great tools are available from the website, online for free. Check out Yollana Shore’s “The Personally Sustainable Action Plan”

One example of bad community engagement comes from our own sustainable-industry leading city. Vancouver has been dubbed a leader in community engagement, however in the last twenty years the engagement process has lost lustre, including some of the meaningful connection with community planning and building.

Does this sound familiar?

I am thinking of the Open House for the design of the Highland Elementary School, UniverCity development site in the Winter of 2009. The drawings of sites were highly complex and illegible for the general public. Big guys from the Burnaby School Board standing around in suits with long faces, did not give me confidence in the planners willingness to listen.

I’m realizing, reading “Kitchen Table Sustainability” that I make the mistake of turning community problems into a solitary mission.

In “Kitchen Table Sustainability” you can read how the lack of political will, lack of public trust, or whatever… changes the vibrance of community engagement and it loses its lustre for planners and the public alike. Wendy Sarkissian gives a great working manual to overcome ineffective and dwindling community process.

Wendy Sarkissian’s points to the importance of professionals in Sustainability that can foster change. We need to communicate widely and fearlessly. See below for local and online resource.

Wendy and her crew of writers for “Kitchen Table Sustainability”, include expertise in environmental ethics, social planning, and environmental science.

Perhaps you recognize the outlined truths:

“Eight underpinnings of community engagement”
1. People know more than they realize
2. People cannot participate satisfactorily unless they can understand the language being used.
3. People often fear giving opinions, especially in their home locality
4. People’s involvement improves the quality of local government
5. Synergy is more likely to occur when people collaborate.
6. Specific skills are required.
7. Relevant professionals should be involved from the start.
8. There is community value in sharing participatory experience.

(p 53. Sarkissian. “Kitchen Table Sustainability: Practical Recipes for Community Engagement with Sustainability”)

It is my experience of the importance of forest and nature, including returning coho, chum salmon, the beautiful variety of birds: many types of woodpeckers, nut hatches, goldenrod, owls, ravens…; many types of amphibians, mammals… including bobcat, black-tailed deer, frogs, long-toed salamander. They fuel my interest in sustainability. I live the benefits of fresh air, clean streets, shading trees.

And I am not afraid to regurgitate my knowledge even if I may be coined a “tree hugger”.
Each of the species  tells of a unique and special natural marvel of the Lower Mainland (and the World).

As residents we are the ones to speak up for the social values of our community.

And a wrong step can lead to unique ecosystems,  lost forever in a blink,  if the community is not paying attention.

Connecting the Dots

Recently I’ve met a great group of Sustainability Professionals who work in the shared workspace at the HiVE, 128 Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC

I recommend you join the great workspace “Vancouver HiVE” . Online  is a  resource of professionals: including facilitators, communications resources, green landscapers, and green building experts, available once you become a member.

The shared office space of the Hive Vancouver, downtown has been open since June 2011. I am happy to find the Natural Step housed at 128 Hastings. The Natural Step, are people who have worked in providing working tools and information for real sustainable possibilities. They consider the individual values: the right for each person to dignity as well as to broader world models and systems.

The Future at UniverCity

Since 2006 I have been interested in the design of a stewardship plan to be implemented by UniverCity Strata. This has been a project with many starts and stops for me as I work to muster action in the UNES group. I find people in City Hall and people in the public work in isolated pockets. Often, I’m left wondering… “How I can’t connect with the community in a continuous dialogue?”

(Well not those words exactly…(:)

I believe in many cases my neighbours don’t realize how valuable they are to an ecologically sustainable community.

Inclusion is a very important part of community engagement as Wendy Sarkissian describes. In the case of UniverCity, a stewardship plan must engage the asian community, eg. distributing information in multilingual packages. “Hmmm, a task?”

If you have any suggestions for community engagement, or are interested in joining the residential advocacy group of friends (UNES) feel free to email me at viviansorensenatmacdotcom

“Sustainability” has meaning for every human and all life on earth.

It’s getting a little cooler (Sept 6, 2011 update: “the heat has returned” VS) out there!
Boggle your mind with natural problems. Thanks for your interest. Please share this blog with your friends and colleagues.

Vivian Sorensen   
UniverCity Neighbours for Environmental Sustainability (UNES)

Wendy Sarkissian was a speaker of City Program, SFU, downtown campus, Vancouver.

!Can you resolve the number of syllables in “Sustainability”?