We’ve been talking recently in my class on the environment, technology and society about different ways of measuring impact, but a recent post on the Nature of Cities blog made me rethink that discussion. What is important is not just the footprint of an individual (or home), but also its location. In particular, the shift from rural to urban settings not only impacts footprint, but also self sufficiency — it is categorically harder (if not impossible in some cases) to produce basic living supplies oneself in an urban setting (food, water, clothing, etc). On the other hand, the literal footprint (land owned, building size, etc) may be much smaller in urban settings. But most important of all, urban settings benefit from and require a collaborative approach to resource management that is not as necessary on a self-supporting farm.
A recent post about urban ecological footprints and innovations around the same at The Nature of Cities provides some examples of collaborative approaches to resource and water management in two cities of very different sizes.
I am curious: To what extent does the research currently contributing to work in online communities, collaborative (and crowdsourced) creation of knowledge, and other social science results coming out of the HCI and CS communities provide new ideas for how we could foster novel urban sustainability solutions. If research on group identity, motivation, and so on can influence the design of successful online communities, can we use the same information to intentionally design offline communities that are able to sustain themselves (and their environment)? What role might online tools and websites have in sustaining and supporting such offline communities?