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Sustainable Community Development

What Is It?

Sustainable Community Development is the intersection of the business community, local government, environmental groups, community members and others working to make their community more livable, inclusive, affordable, and economically competitive. This Attribute focuses on strengthening communities with green design, infrastructure, and education while preserving their unique identity, history, and culture. Through these efforts, nature is protected as both an economic and community asset that provides sustenance, open space, jobs, economic opportunities, and important cultural and historic ties. By providing funding and technical expertise, public gardens can work with valued community resources to help them achieve their goals for sustainability. 

Why Does It Matter?

In recent decades, the world has experienced unprecedented urban growth. In 2015, close to 4 billion people — 54% of the world’s population — lived in cities and that number is projected to increase to about 5 billion people by 2030. Rapid urbanization has brought enormous challenges, including growth in the numbers and size of slums, increased air pollution, inadequate basic services and infrastructure, and unplanned urban sprawl, all of which also make cities more vulnerable to disasters. Better urban planning and management are needed to make the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

As more and more people move to urban areas, cities typically expand their geographic boundaries to accommodate new inhabitants. From 2000 to 2015, in all regions of the world, the expansion of urban land outpaced the growth of urban populations. As a result, cities are becoming less dense as they grow, with unplanned urban sprawl challenging more sustainable patterns of urban development.

“In terms of why do public gardens need to do this? I think there are several factors, one is that we are changing, certainly in our country and in other countries, from a single demographic being the predominant one, to being a multi-cultural society with no single demographic group predominating. And if public gardens intend to continue to attract large audiences, they have to reflect that demographic diversity. And I think secondly, funding sources are increasingly looking at not simply how attractive gardens can be by displaying a real multiplicity of ornamental species, but how effective they can be in changing people’s lives.” 

~Former E.N. Wilds Director, Associate Professor at Cornell University


“When I think of sustainable community development, I come back to asset mapping. What it means is whatever your sustainability goals are, they have to be implemented in the context of that particular community, you have to know what that community's interests are, what their vision for themselves in the future is, and what their current challenges are.”

“Looking at botanical gardens throughout the country, there tends to be a phenomenon where botanical gardens tend to be insular, like an island unto themselves from their surrounding community and as a result of that isolation so to speak, it doesn’t really bleed into some of the more at risk communities that may be within proximity of the garden itself.”

~Vice President of Education & Community Programs, Chicago Botanic Gardens

Where to Begin?

Public gardens have a key role to play in putting communities on a sustainable development pathway, managing risk and enhancing resilience, and advancing prosperity and well-being.


For more information on this attributes goals and related measures, please click on the image below!