Civic Ecology: A Citizen-Driven Framework for Suburban Communities

by | July 18, 2013 2 Urban Design + Planning

Reshaping suburbia suggests a shift toward mixed use, green buildings, complete streets, densification and transit oriented development… in other words, greener, more efficient forms of suburban “hardware.” While these strategies may lead towards greater efficiency, transformative change will require deeper intervention beyond re-forming and efficiency. Suburban areas must be re-imagined as whole communities animated by active citizenship. In this role they become the place for civic engagement around shared prospects for a resilient future.

This paper describes the Civic Ecology framework for sustainable communities and its application for suburban contexts. Civic Ecology is the integrated web of energy, nutrient, resource, financial, information, and cultural flows and interactions that are envisioned, created, and managed by citizens acting for the common good within a geographically-defined community and its city-region. It is a human ecology of place, intimately integrating both natural and social/cultural systems. It is the “software” of community.

The Civic Ecology whole systems framework is designed to foster a new social contract that empowers citizens to participate in the making and ‘ownership’ of their community’s resource flows. This paper details Civic Ecology principles and benefits, and processes for empowering citizens to envision, create, and manage their community’s “software”. Included are examples of communities employing this approach and utilizing an innovative community resource flow mapping tool.

The Civic Ecology framework represents a new paradigm for suburbia, a soft systems urban design that goes beyond more efficient urbanization and toward deep sustainability.

This paper was presented by Tim Smith at the 50th International Making Cities Livable Conference on June 26, 2013 at The Governor Hotel  in Portland, Oregon.


  1. The 1st link directs back to this page.

  2. Shelby Schroeder says |

    Corrected! Thanks, Lennon 🙂

Leave A Comment