Sustainable Community Development

Jennifer Hawkins
Graduate student at the University of Minnesota

According to the Office of Environmental Assistance, “a sustainable community can persist over generations, enjoying a healthy environment, prosperous economy and vibrant civic life. It does not undermine its social or physical systems of support. Rather, it develops in harmony with the ecological patterns it thrives in.”A sustainable community meets its present needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations by developing attitudes and actions that strengthen its economic, environmental, and social frameworks.

Many communities throughout Minnesota recognize the importance of sustainability in their community development projects. These communities include Duluth, St. Joseph, and the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.

We often think of sustainability only in terms of agriculture, but urban areas also have great potential for sustainability, such as the Seward neighborhood in Minneapolis. Seward, home to approximately 7,000 people, is located in east central Minneapolis, bordered by I-94 to the north and the Mississippi River on the east. Neighborhood citizens who wanted to make Seward a better place to live, work and play established the Seward Neighborhood Group in 1960. More than forty years later this community development group is still strong. In order to achieve the goal of making the Seward neighborhood a better place to live, work, and play, the group identified five areas in which to create programs promoting sustainable community development. Each of these areas (Natural Environment, Youth, Community Building, Housing, and Citizen Participation) have clear goals and specific projects. For example, the Natural Environment category works to create a beneficial relationship between residents and nature by advocating for sound environmental practices in residents’ daily lives. Some current projects include : a community garden, waste reduction through neighborhood “eco-teams,” and planning for low-impact use of the Mississippi river bluffs.

Another area that the Seward Neighborhood Group has identified is Community Building. The goal is to make Seward a neighborhood where all people feel safe, youth are nurtured, the arts are celebrated, differences are respected, and each individual achieves her/his full potential. Projects include annual activities such as Clean Sweep, Garage Sale Daze, and the King’s Fair, as well as ongoing support for new block clubs, increased block club activity and the development of a welcome wagon for new residents.

Sustainable community development is most easily achieved when it comes from within an existing community. The benefits of this type of development include more livable communities, lower costs of living, and a safer environment for future generations. The Seward Neighborhood is a remarkable example of the process of sustainable community development.

A community must develop values, attitudes, and ongoing actions that strengthen its natural environment, local economy, and social well-being in order to be sustainable.

Is your community sustainable? Check the sustainability criteria at

Jackson Meadow

Jackson Meadow provides a good example of conservation design in Minnesota. It sets a high standard for the quantity and quality of protected open space, innovative infrastructure systems and unique architectural design. Jackson Meadow illustrates how new developments can respect the unique sense of place of a river community and simultaneously preserve the natural setting of the bluff-lands for all residents to enjoy. This community redefines the aesthetics and functions of the home and places an extreme emphasis on creating a unique sense of place.

Located to the north and east of the Twin Cities near Highway 95, Jackson Meadow is nestled in the rolling farmland and wooded bluffs directly west of the historic village center of Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. The site’s great natural beauty and unique cultural setting prompted the design team to take a different approach to developing the site. The design team first identified the resources they hoped to preserve, and then laid out the 64 clustered home sites in a pattern influenced by the city of Marine and the adjacent St. Croix River. The unique home sites are surrounded by 275 acres of protected woodlands, restored prairies, and farmland.

The preserved land within Jackson Meadow takes on even greater significance given its context: it is part of a river city with historic character; it is adjacent to William O’Brien State Park; and it is located along the bluffs of the St. Croix River, which is a designated Wild and Scenic River. With this context in mind, the project team had the following goals for the development:

  • Respect the sense of place of Marine on St. Croix by using its historic architecture and form to influence the project’s housing styles and layout
  • Minimally impact the bluffs and forest, restore native vegetation, and maintain an agricultural buffer around the development
  • Provide an extensive pedestrian trail system and other amenities, and
  • Use innovative stormwater and wastewater treatment techniques to minimize water resource impacts


  • SITE SIZE: 315 acres total; 145 within development boundaries
  • NUMBER OF UNITS: 64 single-family homes
  • LOT SIZES: 0.3 Ð 1.75 acres
  • OPEN SPACE: 275 acres total (87%): 105 owned by HOA; 170 by adjacent landowners
  • WASTE TREATMENT: Two constructed wetland systems
  • WATER: Central well system
  • TRAILS: Five miles of public trails with connections to city and state park
  • NATURAL FEATURES: 70+ acres hardwood forest; 25+ acres restored prairie
Read Up

Toward Sustainable Communities: Resources for Citizens and their Governments, Mark Roseland, Maureen Cureton, and Heather Wornell.

Act Locally
Metropolitan Council Center for Neighborhoods
2600 E Frankin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 612-339-3480

What You Can Do

  • Protect water resources
  • Conserve energy and support renewable energy initiatives
  • Preserve green space
  • Promote alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle travel
  • Promote and support sustainable agriculture
  • Support local businesses
  • Educate yourself and others about sustainability
  • Reuse building materials
Sustainable Development

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