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Creating Sustainable, Liveable, and Resilient Communities

Opinion Piece


March 19, 2020, 5:36 pm

Dubai, March 19

By: Dr Samar Hamad


The concepts of sustainability, liveability, and resilience are key to building better communities. Many times, these terms tend to be used interchangeably, as they all involve policies and planning objectives that are supposed to provide good quality of life for communities. However, each one of these concepts is different and has its own scope with rather different emphasis to help in moving towards the desirable future.


The UN defined sustainability in the Brundtland Commission Report as “meeting today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. The notion of sustainability aims to optimising the environmental, economic, and social aspects of life at global and local levels. It considers the indirect and long-term impacts of community planning processes to achieve the desired outcome (sustainable future). Thus, a holistic approach must be adopted to deal in harmony with three distinct; however, overlapping conceptualizations that support the notion of sustainability:

  • Ecological Integrity: It entails maintaining a healthy environment with improved air quality, relying on green power sources and promoting renewable/clean energy use, and the efficient use of energy and water supply.
  • Economic Vitality: This involves adopting policies to support local businesses, attract diverse businesses and investment to pursue economic and financial sustainability, create job opportunities within easy access for the multiple socio-economic groups, and use innovative technologies efficiently.
  • Social Equity: It can be achieved by fostering unity among diverse communities, emphasizing the community heritage and history, creating affordable housing options to equitably accommodate the population, and promoting community wellbeing and revitalization.


This is a more local concept, which defined by Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Encyclopaedia as “the environmental and social quality of an area as perceived by residents, employees, customers, and visitors”. Liveability concepts tends to offer communities a variety of choices of pleasant places with services and amenities to enjoy a convenient lifestyle.

  • Pleasant, safe, and healthy neighbourhoods: It promotes the development of attractive and well-designed neighbourhoods with safe traffic and improved public health conditions. It also offers safety, security, and accessibility for all community groups including disabled and elderly members of the community
  • Better local environment: This entails creating clean neighbourhood with good air and water quality and minimising pollution (dust, noise, etc.).
  • Quality social life: It emphasizes the community identity, culture, and traditions while offering quality social interaction, recreation, and entertainment opportunities.


            Resilience is the community capacity to anticipate risk, limit the impact of a turbulent change, and its ability to recover and rebound to previous state. Such turbulence may be caused by natural disaster/climate change, economic crisis, local epidemic/global pandemics, etc. Building robust community resilience entails thorough understanding of the factors led to the crisis and empowering communities to grow capacity and bounce back from disruptions. Within this context, the key components of resilience are:

  • Survival: It is the communities’ capacity to absorb disturbance and their ability to retain the basic functions of life.
  • Adaptation: This is an ongoing dynamic process to adapt to changes caused by the turbulence. It enhances resilience-building efforts by finding new approaches to respond to unexpected changes.
  • Evolution: When adaptation is not enough to confront challenges, evolution becomes necessary to create transformative behavioural changes to face future challenges and mitigate damage.


It can be inferred from the analysis above that sustainability provides a more comprehensive and integrated approach to a better quality of life for communities at all levels from the global level to the city and local levels, with great emphasis on maintaining holistic approach to satisfy the goals of sustainability –  economic, social and environmental goals. While liveability can be considered as a subset of sustainability that affects the local communities with more emphasis on the community members’ perception of the qualities of their community. On the other hand, resilience is fundamentally tied to adversities; how communities respond to unexpected disruptions and their capacity to bounce back to normal state.

Currently, these concepts are not interrelated in the policy-making and community planning processes. In fact, their goals are often pursued by separate agencies (either governmental agencies or NGOs), which may hinder the community efforts to achieve their sustainability, liveability, or resilience goals. Some sustainable communities, which have balanced ecological, economical, and social qualities, are brittle to unexpected turbulences. Other cities have pleasant neighbourhoods and great liveability qualities that only limited to the wealthy members of the community. While some resilient cities are not actually attractive or offer liveable places. Hence, an integrative approach that interrelate the three concepts into the community planning processes is necessary to appropriately combine the key components of each concept. Furthermore, adopting participatory approaches to engage the community members and stakeholders in the decision-making process is also crucial to understand the community’s needs and set the appropriate goals to be achieved. Therefore, interagency collaboration and community engagement are key to create sustainable, liveable, and resilient communities.


More information is available at:

World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford University Press: Oxford

Victoria Transport Policy Institute (TDM) Encyclopaedia

Post Carbon Institute: Resilience

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