I recently learned that my township, (Abington), has been selected for the STAR Leadership Community Program. STAR stands for Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating communities. This is a program that enables communities to evaluate themselves on a range of livability/sustainability measures. These measures go across a wide variety of areas. These include areas with obvious environmental implications like “built environment”, “climate and energy”, and “natural systems”. However, it also includes areas like “Economy and Jobs”, “Education, Arts, and Community”, “Equity and Empowerment”, and “Health and Safety”. Some of the more specific items are “Public Spaces”, “Greening the Energy Supply”, “Social and Cultural Diversity”, “Equitable Services and Access”, “Local Economy” and “Food Access and Nutrition”, plus about 40 more.
I really had not thought a lot about a community’s sustainability before; I have been focused on how businesses (and I, in my daily life) have been incorporating sustainability. Thinking about sustainability from a community point of view is a different perspective. Thinking about what makes a community “sustainable”, vs, myself or a business is a very interesting process.
In my thinking, I start with the strictly environmental aspects. There are many good things happening in Abington on this front. Some of these are (as listed in 1 recent newsletter): A workshop for a bicycle plan for the township, an electronic recycling event, a listing of places for free mulch and compost (I picked up mine already), a website to find clean energy electric supplies (at a price cheaper than the wind contract I have), and a notice that Abington is now an official Audubon Bird Town.
From a community-wide perspective, sustainability goes beyond the environmental aspects. For me, it expands into “what makes this a good place to live, that others want to come to?” The natural first answer is economic vibrancy. We have many businesses here; some are unique mom and pop businesses, but we also have some national chains like Target as well as the Willow Grove Mall. All of these provide retail options for customers, some employment, and especially important from my point of view, tax revenues that help keep the Abington schools strong. Good schools are a proven way to keep a community desirable. I want the variety of retail options to stay here–for many reasons.
Beyond the economy, there are other aspects included in the STAR ratings that I should think about in terms of community sustainability. These include, but are not limited too, education/arts, social justice, and health measures. I classify these more under the “liveability” aspects of the STAR rating systems. Ready access to artistic outlets are proven draws for bringing people into communities. I see the social justice type rankings as measuring how broadly spread the benefits of living in a highly rated STAR community are. The health measures are easy to overlook; but if one thinks about it, it is difficult to imagine a viable community if its residents have an above average number of health problems.
The whole STAR process has expanded my thinking on the possibilities of what “sustainability” is. I do think there has to be a strong environmental component, but beyond that it has to do with your perspective. If you are an individual, you would probably tend to focus on the aspects that mean the most to you. In my case, I tend to focus on the environmental and the economic, even though I very much appreciate the fact that Abington Hospital is an easy drive from my house. If I were an artist, I would focus on the cultural outlets. If I felt locked out of the system, I would focus on the social justice aspects. The STAR system is broad enough to include many different perspectives, including mine, but not only mine. I’m glad I’ll have a chance to help in some small way.
The STAR Communities website