Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Can a City Measure Sustainability Success?

A group from several Indianapolis neighborhood organizations made a trek to the nearby college town of Bloomington, Indiana recently to learn from them about how they have tackled the problem of creating a more walkable, sustainable community through innovative planning and zoning initiatives. I will detail some of Bloomington's innovations in a later post, but I wanted to highlight an idea that I think is critical when we begin to talk about moving toward communities that are more economically-environmentally-socially sustainable. My first brush with indicators of sustainability success was at a conference held in Seattle in 1993. It has spread from there over the years and has become a critically important tool that hundreds of communities of all sizes have adopted since, but I had not yet seen it implemented in Indiana. Similar scoreboard techniques have been implemented by successful corporations, design firms, neighborhoods and even families. As the CEO of Interface Corporation, Ray Anderson, puts it, "what gets measured gets managed." What can you measure to manage how well you are doing?

When the city of Seattle decided to make their city more sustainable in the early 1990's, they developed a set of measures of sustainability to be their scoreboard; their measure of success. Any of us who have clicked a stopwatch after a run or stepped on the bathroom scale or had our cholesterol checked know that in order to change something, you need to be able to measure your success and track your progress. According to the Sustainable Seattle web site, good indicators have these traits: Relevant; Reflect community values; Attractive to local media; Statistically measurable; Logically or scientifically defensible; Reliable; Leading; and Policy-relevant.

To find out what 17 measures of success Bloomington, Indiana found to be relevant, have a look at their Commission on Sustainability web site. Some of them might excite your curiosity, such as the number of pedestrian and bike accidents per capita. Others will be immediately obvious, such as the crime rate. If you download their 2007 report (PDF), you can drill down into the detail and see how they are doing. Also of note is that the web site organization reflects Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan's rational move to place economic development and sustainability together under one staff person. This is a very basic synergy for quality of life and community success that is sadly lacking in some cities and some states. None of the problems in the chart below exist in isolation and org charts that promote isolation can be hazardous to a city's or a state's long term survival (sustainability).

A great resource for learning more about Measures of Success can be found at consultant Mary Hart's excellent web site. The chart above, from that site, shows how indicators of success are interrelated in a web of relationships.

Is your community or organization in the game? What is the score? Are you winning or losing?

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