Sustainable Communities

CRP/ES 484/584, Spring 2003

Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:10-3:30, Design 130


Professor Tara Lynne Clapp

377 College of Design, 294-7759,

Office Hours:  Mondays 2:00 – 4:00, or email to set up an appointment

Teaching Assistant:  Holly Killmer,


Course Overview: 

Over the last twenty years, the goal of sustainability has been adopted in many national and international policies.  While sustainable development can be variously defined, the overall idea is one in which plans balance considerations for economy, environment and equity simultaneously.  The central questions that we will consider in this class are:

- What is a sustainable community?

- How can we plan for sustainable communities?

Your central task for this course is to develop preliminary answers to these questions, and to learn how to keep asking these questions – and refining your answers -  in your work and in your own community.  We will consider these questions in a) a class project, b) our organization of the class, c) our group processes, and d) our assessment and evaluation practices.


We will begin with a set of readings that introduce the importance of sustainability and the key ideas that comprise current thinking about sustainable communities.  As sustainability has been defined in both procedural and substantive terms, local communities have been identified as important loci for action.  It is at the local level that the goals of citizen participation and collaborative processes are most easily realized.  As democratic process is a key component of sustainability, group process skills are important.  We will equip ourselves with some basic tools and skills for future group work, the most local democratic practice.


With our initial understandings, we will tackle an applied project and present our findings to a client.  As a class, we will use a case study of the Sac and Calhoun county region of North Central Iowa.  The issue at hand is a proposed expansion of Highway 20 into a four-lane between Fort Dodge and Sioux City.  Currently, there is no four-lane highway in the region.  Our clients, the Highway 20 Association, have proposed that the highway expansion be made an ‘environmental corridor.’  Our client is asking for guidance and ideas for the creative implementation of a new concept.


Working in small groups, we could consider this concept from several perspectives.  One perspective is the further development of the idea of an ‘environmental corridor’ as a development of the highway itself.  One or two groups might work on how a four lane highway can be more environmentally friendly.  Others might consider the difference in social and environmental impacts between the existing highway and the proposed expansion in the terms of the sustainable development of the region.  As the economic future of the region is considered to be at stake in the proposal for expansion, one or two groups might consider what might comprise the sustainable economic development of the region.  One group might evaluate the impacts of the development of the four-lane highway on the communities in the region. 


In addition to our basic readings, we have a rich set of resources for this project:

-         previous work done by the communities in the region,

-         research into local understandings of  the ‘environmental corridor’ concept by Iowa State Extension and Trees Forever,

-         the State of Iowa transportation plan,

-         our clients, including local economic development officers, and

-         guest lecturers, including local County extension and individuals studying highway impacts on local communities.


As many of you are not CRP majors, we will not expect an extensive background in techniques of analysis.  We will begin as active citizens and learn the planning process and some technical analytical skills as we go along.  We may ask the CRP majors to serve in a consulting role as their knowledge permits.


Learning outcomes: 

In this course, students should develop an understanding of the following concepts:

-         concepts of sustainability, in their environmental, economic and social applications;

-         the rationale for ‘community’ as a locus of action in sustainable development;

-         sustainability indicators as a planning tool; and,

-         processes of local and regional planning, including the interaction between economic development, community development and transportation planning.


Students should expect to develop and refine the following conceptual and analytical abilities:

-         relating concepts to applications in practice and writing;

-         thoughtful analysis of complex problems;

-         integration of concepts, analysis and description into a design or proposal; and

-         evaluating your work and the work of others (giving and receiving feedback, comparing performance criteria).


Students should expect to use and refine the following skills:

-         proposal development/writing:  group project report and individual writing assignments;

-         presentation:  client presentation and term-end presentations to faculty and other students

-         group work:  identifying typical group process, typical group roles, and accommodating individual differences and contributions;


Class Format:

We will use a combination of readings, lectures, guest lectures and exercises to support and inform our overall project and develop our understanding of sustainable communities.  Early in the term we will begin to use the class time to develop as small groups and to plan our projects.  We will use field trips to gain familiarity with our project area, meet our clients and area stakeholders, and develop our analysis.  We will invite guest lecturers with specific kinds of analytical expertise as needed to demonstrate specific kinds of regional and community analyses.  As the term progresses, we will use more of the class time for group project work.

Class Values:

Certain core values will form the basis for our work together on this project.  We may disagree about specific demonstrations of these values, but we will refer to these values and discuss how they are shown in our work together, and we will evaluate our own and others’ demonstrations of these values.  These are:

-         individual responsibility and accountability:  identifying and completing agreed-on tasks;

-         respect for others:  listening, giving constructive feedback, disagreement;

-         commitment to producing a worthwhile group project of value to the client and to the group members; and

-         active learning:  engagement, discussion, disagreement; and

-         collaboration.


Required Texts (484 and 584):

Roseland, Mark et al.  1998.  Toward Sustainable Communities:  Resources for Citizens and Their Governments.  Gabriola Island, B.C.:  New Society.

            Few chapters assigned, but book should be used as a resource by groups.

Course Readings Packet: available at Copy Works on Lincoln Way

Project Materials on Reserve in the Design Library


Products and Evaluation/Assessment:

Each student will be responsible for four basic products that will form the basis for evaluation and assessment.


Readings Journal:  The assigned readings will form a shared basis for our ability to do this project and to develop our understandings of sustainable community concepts.  As you do the readings, you should take notes, and write a paragraph or two of reflection concerning each reading.  This journal should be descriptive and evaluative.  These journals will be handed in to me three times during the term.  The basic expectation is that you are doing the readings and learning from them.  The high-level expectation is that you are able to evaluate what you read, particularly against the other readings or your experiences in class.  Graduate students and XQ students (584) will be expected to augment the required readings with other readings from the textbook and outside resources; feel free to ask for leads in your area of interest.


Self/Other Assessment and Review:  Each time we have a project review, I will ask you to submit a review of yourself, your group and the other groups.  You can assign a grade for communicative purposes, although you do not have to do this.  You will be expected to submit reviews of the other groups that can be distributed to them, so that they have the benefit of your constructive criticism.  Your own review of your own group’s performance will not be distributed among your group (although you can choose to do this).  If there are group members that are not pulling their weight, this is your opportunity to say so.  I will use these reviews as inputs for my own evaluations.   In most cases, the group will be responsible for dealing with basic conflicts and for producing a final product as a group. However, in exceptional circumstances, your individual grade for the project can differ from the group’s grade.


Project/Proposal/Presentations:  The project has two aspects, the content of the advice to the client and its presentation.  The content of these projects will be developed by the groups over the term.  The groups will also be responsible for developing presentations of these projects for the class, the clients, and in a final project review in the Atrium during dead week.  As the effectiveness of presentation is difficult to separate from the content of the proposal, these will be evaluated as aspects of a whole.  Criteria for these evaluations will be developed by the class during class time.


Presentation formats/media – the presentation products – should consider the varying presentation experiences and the value of the products for students’ portfolios, as examples of abilities.  The final presentation to the client could be done as a video, an ICN conference or in person.  The final presentation in the atrium to other faculty and students may require slightly different presentation materials. 


Final Paper (Individual):

Each student will be expected to write a paper.  For students in 484, these short papers (3-5 pp), in which you have the opportunity to reflect on your learning in the course.  These papers should document the themes of the course and explain the lessons that the student will be able to apply to his or her future work. 


For 484 XQ, the paper is the major work of the term.  Paper requirements will be discussed via email (unless the student is able to participate in a group and in the term project).


For students in 584, the expectation is a short (10-12 pp) research paper.  Topics should build on the assigned readings of the course, with supplementary readings.  This paper should critically examine a key issue in the theory and practice of the sustainable development of communities (process, goals, measurement) or a particular application of sustainable development theory and practice (indicators, eco-villages, intergenerational equity, collaborative process, local reliance, bioregional communities, etc).  You may choose a topic that can contribute to the work of your group, or one that is of value to your overall program of study within the context of this class. 



484:     Readings Journal                                                           15 %

            Self/Other Assessment/Review                          15 %

            Proposal/Project Presentation                                       45 %

            Reflection Paper                                                           15 %

            Participation                                                                 10 %


584:     Readings Journal                                                           20 %

            Self/Other Assessment/Review                          20 %

            Proposal/Project Presentation                                       40 %   

            Short Research Paper                                                   20 %


XQ:      Readings Journal                                                           35 %

            Reviews of Project Presentations                                  15 %

            Research Paper                                                            50 %