Sustainability Starts Locally: Untying the Hands of Local Governments to Create Sustainable Communities

34 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2011

See all articles by Jerrold A. Long

Jerrold A. Long

University of Idaho College of Law

Date Written: November 1, 2009


In this article, I argue that local governments have a potentially significant role to play in defining and attaining social, economic and ecological sustainability, but that many local governments lack the legal authority to implement place-based initiatives - including local land-use plans, and the land-use ordinances crafted to achieve the goals in those plans - that will get them to the sustainable future they desire. Sustainable communities must emerge from a local exercise in creating an imagined future and developing the means to achieve that future. In order to implement their visions of sustainable community effectively, individual communities - cities, towns and counties - must possess the land-use or other natural resource management authority to build the places they imagine. Without that authority, the act of imagining a sustainable place is largely meaningless, as the tools do not exist to get there. Given the complexities in bringing economic, ecological, and equitable concerns together in the management of a single resource - let alone an entire community, region, state or country - successful implementation of sustainability principles will require multiple experimentations, failures, re-envisionings and new experimentations. And this process will necessarily vary with the context of specific places, as different communities identify different economic, ecologic and social values that are worth sustaining. In other words, attaining sustainable communities (with an emphasis on the plural) will require allowing each community to identify its own pathway toward sustainability.

Keywords: Sustainability, Local Government, Land Use

Suggested Citation

Long, Jerrold A., Sustainability Starts Locally: Untying the Hands of Local Governments to Create Sustainable Communities (November 1, 2009). Wyoming Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Jerrold A. Long (Contact Author)

University of Idaho College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 442321
Moscow, ID 83844-2321
United States

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