Community Building is Sustainability

Sean Gosiewski
Alliance for Sustainability

Community Brings Happiness. How many of your happiest moments have been spent with those you love? We are social creatures; healthy family and community ties are the foundation for our physical, emotional, economic, and spiritual health. Our common future will be built through healthy community as we band together to solve climate change and create clean, green, and local living economies.

Turning lemons into lemonade. By joining hands with neighbors, communities are turning lemons into lemonade. The Mad Dads confront gun violence through walking patrols. Block clubs link neighbors with resources to prevent home foreclosures. Friends form buying clubs to beat rising food prices. The Open Eye Figure Theater performs neighborhood puppet shows. Neighbors greet one another on bike paths while leaving their cars garaged. Longfellow neighbors help one another weatherize their homes.

Mobilizing to win a new war. On a larger scale, our nation mobilized within four years to win World War II, with young and old joining together to retool factories, plant victory gardens, save tin cans, car pool, and give blood. Top world scientists, including NASA’s Jim Hanson, state that our world has a ten year window to achieve dramatic cuts in global carbon emissions to prevent climate change from reaching several tipping points. New national citizen movements including the We Campaign and One Sky are mobilizing us to meet this challenge.

Will our community ties be there when we need them? Minnesota has some of the highest levels of social capital and volunteerism in the US however, community ties in the US have been declining for decades. With most households needing two incomes and many working longer hours, time for neighborly pursuits can seem scarce. Perception of danger on the streets keeps many indoors. Television and other indoor pursuits are replacing face to face time with family and friends. When homes lack front porches, our neighborhoods lack sidewalks, and nearby shopping, we spend more time isolated and sedentary in cars.

More fun, less stuff. US Citizens use more energy and resources per capita, yet experience lower rates of mental health and happiness than most of the world. Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean Economist who won the Alternative Nobel Prize, has defined nine fundamental human needs, which he feels are universal and are distinct from our economic “wants.” Max-Neef classifies the fundamental human needs as subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, recreation, creation, identity, and freedom. Fortunately, meeting these fundamental needs is easy and requires few material goods when we create a strong community.

How to nurture community in your life. We each have people we know, love and see on a regular basis. Each of us can bring deeper ties, new awareness, and sustainable behaviors into our intimate networks into our home, work, school, neighborhood, faith communities, and circles of friends. As you gain insights into healthy pathways opening into our common future, please share them with your family and friends. The conversations you spark will accelerate our culture’s rapid shift toward sustainability.

Read Up

Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets, by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, ACTA Publications, 1997. 

The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-It Yourself Guide to Placemaking, by Jay Walljasper, New Society, 2007.

The Natural Step for Communities, by Sarah James and Torbjörn Lahti, New Society, 2004.


Act Locally
Alliance for Sustainability
Minneapolis, MN

Here are some of my favorite ways to nurture community in my life:

By Sean Gosiewski, Alliance for Sustainability

  • Enjoy time with your family outside. Fresh air, sunlight, and the elements help quiet the mind and bring joy with loved ones.
  • Stay in touch with friends. Bless your house (or your local spot) with the sound of laughter.
  • Host a gathering. Block club parties bring surprising conversations. Try a local food potluck,
  • Join a Committee. Volunteer with your congregation, school, political campaign, or environmental club and meet new friends.
  • Green your block. Community gardening, buckthorn removal, or sharing perennials are great ways to meet neighbors.
  • Walk, Bike and Bus. Greet others while reaching the store, park, or school with less stress.
  • Support and/or create local gathering places & events. Community thrives in friendly, shared spaces. Active Living by Design ( and Design for Health ( offer tools to evolve your local built environment.
  • Stretch boundaries. Meet people from ages 3 to 93 and from diverse incomes, views, cultures, and countries. Traveling abroad and/or meeting new immigrants can re-invigorate your passion for community.


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