by Rhonda Phillips, Bruce F. Seifer, and Ed Antczak
Book review by George Harvey
Sustainable Communities is a book about economics, community politics, sociology, history, and culture. It is a book that recognizes the failures of the past, but also illustrates some very notable successes. It is a book with a plan, and the plan is about resiliency, sustainability, and a better future.
The book is also largely about Burlington, Vermont, a city that is often cited as the best, or one of the best, in one way or another. The events and actions that made it that way have been studied all over the country, but there are few teams of authors better suited to writing this particular book. Phillips has authored fifteen books on community development and related topics; Antczak has many years experience in business development, and Seifer led economic development of Burlington for thirty years. The forward is by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
The book starts with a short history of Burlington over the past thirty years. The initial movement was to build a vibrant economy based on the idea that people matter. The idea is to make a city – or any community – not only economically, but also socially and environmentally healthy.
Burlington has stood out in many ways and many times. Among other things, it has been named “America’s healthiest city” by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008, “Top 10 City for the Next Decade,” by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, “#1 Bass Fishing Capital” in Outdoor Life, and a feature spot in “25 Cities for Art (small city category)” in American Style magazine. The book deals with the root causes of the flowering of Burlington.
This book is an incomplete guide to success, because there is still a lot to be done. There is no claim that Burlington has been made perfect, and the areas of life, such as poverty and high cost of living are not glossed over. Nevertheless, it does offer a guide to how a community can be made a better place to live. It is a book of principles that could, I believe, be applied anywhere, offering an exciting and hopeful view of possibilities for the future.