Sustainability as currently practiced in the land development industry (whether it be the LEED program, the Sustainable Sites Initiative or any of the other sustainable metrics that are being proposed) is inherently flawed. None of these initiatives is truly taking a living systems approach.

In Anne Whiston Spirn’s commencement speech for the Conway School of Landscape Design, published in the spring 2011 issue of con’text, she talks about photography critic A.D. Coleman’s proposed set of guidelines for artists and photographers.  I find that many of Coleman’s guidelines hit at the heart of what it really means to be sustainable.  Coleman’s first rule is: ‘Stay put. Grow soil to feed you’, followed by her second rule: ‘Dig in your heels.  Do not accede to any system that would shunt you aimlessly, constantly from one context to another.  Such systems are hostile to your survival.  Develop versatility.  There are alternative means for supporting yourself.  Survive between the cracks.”  To me, Spirn’s take on Colman’s guidelines says it all about what is wrong with today’s sustainability movement; “Every place, like every person, is in the process of becoming.  One cannot possibly envision what the future of a place might be if one does not know the history of its development.  Designers and planners who do not know the trajectory that a place has been following risk failing when they intervene to change that course.”

Envisioning the future without knowing the essence of its place is not sustainable; it’s setting the table for ultimate failure.

Further Reading

Living on the Edge: National Best Practices in Coastal Resilience
Imagine the Wall
Get to know Laura Wildman
Ecosystem Prosthetics: A Pier Review
Pandemic Pause

More From This Author

Looking Back to Move Forward – Celebrating Ecological Restoration
Economy’s effect on sustainable development? No easy question.
Cultivating our collective health and well-being: Pathways to Planetary Health
Food Security: Shout it from the rooftop (and parking lot)!
Landscape Restoration in North Korea