Recent newspaper articles describing the Groton Planning Board's Public Hearing to ratify the new Master Plan make it clear that there is a considerable amount of misinformation regarding sustainability, the Sustainability Commission and the role of sustainability in the Master Planning process. The Sustainability Commission was accused of having undue influence on the Planning Board and thus "tainting" the planning process. This does not illustrate much confidence in the Planning Board and its ability to maintain focus on their mission. The Request for Proposals crafted by the Planning Board included a requirement for a sustainability component. The winning offer included a sustainability component. Groton has had for several years now a Sustainability Commission. Accordingly, it seems logical to include the Commissions' input to the process for consideration by the consultant and the Planning Board during the planning process. To accomplish this the Planning Board invited the Commission to participate in six of the eight advisory groups. This meant asking our commissioners to select the group they were interested in and attend each of the meetings. Since we are all unpaid volunteers, these extra meetings were a burden which resulted in the slowdown of the Commissions' work plan for 2011. We all understood that the Master Plan was the greater good and we did not want our work to be at odds with the master planning process. Therefore whatever "tainting" of the planning process, it was requested "tainting" designed to include sustainability concepts into the plan. Not all our ideas were accepted by the planners and some of the sustainability ideas in the Plan were not derived from or congruent to sustainability concepts the Commission is currently working with. BUT THAT'S ALL RIGHT. The consultant did what consultants do, they get input from the community, weigh it against experience, education, perspective that distance affords and present their best recommendations. That's why we hire consultants and not parrots. I don't think we "tainted" the process any more than the Trails Committee or other knowledgeable individuals "tainted" the advisory groups they participated in.
I am concerned however that to some sustainability is another word for socio/economic manipulation through housing. Socio/economic diversity is of course considered when addressing the community component of a sustainable community (balanced with economic and environmental components) however affordable housing addresses another but little recognized issue. The issue is affordable homes for our kids when they grow up so they don't have to move away and affordable living space for our elders when they downsize and want to stay in Groton near their families. Addressing this issue is supporting maintenance of extended families that help each other and their neighborhoods become self-sufficient, a core principal of sustainability. Instead of just coming to Groton for the schools, you may appreciate our quality of life and want your family around you well after the kids are out of school.
Generally speaking, "sustainable communities are places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. Sustainable communities: meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents are stewards of their resources and environment contribute to a high quality of life that can be sustained across generations. In addition, sustainable communities: are safe and inclusive, are well planned, built and run, offer equality of opportunity and good services for all."
I fail to see anything that is sinister in these ideas.
There is no doubt that there are significant challenges to a sustainable future for all communities in the face of environmental and economic change that is and will be hard to understand, let alone correct. There is an understandable urge to concentrate all our efforts on protecting us from the effects of these changes today while ignoring a balanced approach for each of the three legs of the sustainability stool (environment, economy and community). Each leg represents a separate constituency within a community and all constituencies within the community must be engaged in the discussion if we are to be successful in developing solutions for concerns in any one leg. Economic issues may not be solved if the solution degrades the environment or reduces the community's quality of life. Similarly, environmental issues may not be solved if the solution has a negative effect on the economy and/or the community. The goal is balanced decision making within the overall framework of a common understanding of agreed upon community standards of sustainability. Stated another way - you won't be successful with saving the environment if two-thirds of the communities' eyes glaze over at the mention of "Global Warming". Today in Groton our hoped for standard developed by the Groton Sustainability Commission is stated as: "Sustainability is the commitment to adopt practices that support and balance the social, economic and environmental aspects of our community, now and into the future."
I stated in the hearing that what comes next in the process is the establishment of priorities for action. This will be a public process where the entire community can have an opportunity to influence what we do and when we do it. SHOW UP
In the meantime the Commission will be evaluating the Plan's Sustainability Ideas and recommending approaches to implementation. Our meetings are open public meetings.
If you think about it, another word for sustainability is "RESPECT".
Chair, Groton Sustainability Commission