Sustainable development is defined as any development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations.” But how do we pursue balance between the present and future?
We can’t, after all, know what tomorrow will bring, and finding agreement on anything within national, state, or local governments has proved challenging over the past few years. Climate scientists predict rising sea levels over the next 30 years, but North Carolina legislators disagree, preferring to capitalize on tourism today at the expense of the future.
Conversely, in Chapel Hill, elected officials ignore current residents’ objections to development decisions that negatively impact quality of today’s life in order to prepare for the future.
So how do we proceed with conversations around a topic as controversial, or “wicked,” as sustainable development? Wicked problems are those that are poorly defined, supported by confusing and conflicting information, and where the decision makers have conflicting values. There is no right answer to a wicked problem; their solutions are either good or bad, not wrong or right.
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A “good” solution to the sustainable development challenge can be found in the process of placemaking as defined by the Center for Public Spaces.
Placemaking is a more democratic and inclusive urban planning approach than the highly technical new urbanist movement that brought us the Ephesus-Fordham form-based code. New urbanism elevates outside consultants into positions of local control, often prioritizing the technical over the social. Placemaking follows a collaborative design process that succeeds only by involving residents in defining how we design, govern, own and live within our community. Placemaking is the “nexus between sustainability and livability,” balancing the future (sustainability) with the present (livability).
Two years ago, fewer than 15 percent of you chose to cast your votes. That abdication ushered into power a group of individuals who have collectively changed the face of Chapel Hill. place_fact1
Over the next several months, residents of Chapel Hill will have the opportunity to select Town Council members who will guide the local implementation of sustainable development. With the slate of candidates, you will have the choice between the incumbents who brought you Ephesus-Fordham and Obey Creek and a set of newcomer candidates who are advocating for a more placemaking-like process.
Do you want consultants to define Chapel Hill or do you believe that is the right of the people who live here?
Who are the candidates most likely to honor a public process and insist that the town planning staff honor feedback from citizens?
What are the questions you can ask that might weed out the differences between candidates who mouth their support for sustainability and community design versus those who will actually champion such a process?
Which candidates will actually listen to you and your neighbors after they are elected?
Selecting candidates who will honor the livability needs of present residents while laying the foundation for a sustainable future is a decision you get to make once every two years and it’s a mighty power. Two years ago, fewer than 15 percent of you chose to cast your votes. That abdication ushered into power a group of individuals who have collectively changed the face of Chapel Hill. They have repeatedly proclaimed their desire for sustainability while ignoring the input of their citizen advisory boards, local experts, and engaged citizens. And what did the community get? More roads, more traffic, non-human scaled buildings, more luxury apartments. And the loss of long-term local businesses.
Please take your responsibility this year seriously. It’s not just about casting votes on November 3. It’s about rigorously digging and probing into candidate positions and trustworthiness before the election in order to cast informed votes. It’s about honoring the electoral process and ensuring this community is guided by a vision that honors both the present and the future.
You can reach Terri Buckner at Tbuckner306@gmail.com. Tell us what you think about today’s commentary at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name for publication.