An effective sustainability program requires three basic components: strong environmental, social, and economic support systems. Although a number of articles and books have been published on Social Sustainability, it is the least defined and least understood of the three components. One definition of social sustainability is “the continuing ability of a city to function as a long-term, viable setting for human interaction, communication and cultural development.” (Yiftachel & Hedgcock, 1993) Because environmental and economic sustainability have been addressed in greater detail over the past three decades, they are also better defined and, currently, easier to understand. Social sustainability receives significantly less attention in public platforms, but it is as critical as the other two “legs” of sustainability. For Richland County Government, achieving social sustainability means that Richland County is meeting basic needs of the community across and within all demographic groups, assisting communities in maintaining and developing practices that protect the environment and tax payer’s dollars, and maintaining the cultural integrity of communities across and within all demographic groups.
The phrase “soft infrastructure” includes formal human services that address culture, education, health, and social services, as well as, informal community organizations like volunteer projects and programs and social relationships that define communities (Duhl, 2000). All of these services, programs, and relationships contribute to the social well-being of a community. Ultimately, social sustainability requires that local government and employers:
- Meet basic needs for food, shelter, education, work, income and safe living and working conditions;
- Are equitable, ensuring that the benefits of development are distributed fairly across society;
- Enhance, or at least does not impair, the physical, mental and social well-being of the population;
- Promote education, creativity and the development of human potential for the whole population;
- Preserve cultural and biological heritage, thus strengthening our sense of connectedness to our history and environment;
- Promote harmonious living and mutual support of each other;
- Are democratic, promoting citizen participation and involvement and;
- Are livable, linking the built environment with the natural environment
For more information about Richland County’s sustainability efforts, contact Dr. Jamelle Elllis, Richland County’s Sustainability Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.