Civic Ecology: A Citizen-Driven Framework for Suburban Communities

Reshaping suburbia suggests a shift toward mixed use, green buildings, complete streets, densification and transit oriented development… in other words, greener, more efficient forms of suburban “hardware.” While these strategies may lead towards greater efficiency, transformative change will require deeper intervention beyond re-forming and efficiency. Suburban areas must be re-imagined as whole communities animated by active citizenship. In this role they become the place for civic engagement around shared prospects for a resilient future.

This paper describes the Civic Ecology framework for sustainable communities and its application for suburban contexts. Civic Ecology is the integrated web of energy, nutrient, resource, financial, information, and cultural flows and interactions that are envisioned, created, and managed by citizens acting for the common good within a geographically-defined community and its city-region. It is a human ecology of place, intimately integrating both natural and social/cultural systems. It is the “software” of community.

The Civic Ecology whole systems framework is designed to foster a new social contract that empowers citizens to participate in the making and ‘ownership’ of their community’s resource flows. This paper details Civic Ecology principles and benefits, and processes for empowering citizens to envision, create, and manage their community’s “software”. Included are examples of communities employing this approach and utilizing an innovative community resource flow mapping tool.

The Civic Ecology framework represents a new paradigm for suburbia, a soft systems urban design that goes beyond more efficient urbanization and toward deep sustainability.

This paper was presented by Tim Smith at the 50th International Making Cities Livable Conference on June 26, 2013 at The Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon.

Making EcoDistricts

This monograph investigates the promise of sustainable neighborhoods through the lens of Civic Ecology, EcoDistricts, stakeholder accountability, behavior and learning, governance, performance measurement and meaning .The effort was funded by the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, WA (www.bullitt.org).

Making EcoDistricts (PDF).

Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures

Civic Ecology is featured as one of 43 stories from around the world on participatory placemaking, or recoding (page 242, SERA Architects) in Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures by Thomas Ermacora and Lucy Bullivant.

Civic Ecology: White Paper

Civic Ecology: A Community Systems Approach to Sustainability [pdf].