An Introduction to the Sustainable Communities Project

South Station in Boston, Massachusetts

When urbanist advocate and author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, wrote that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created for everybody” (Jacobs), she introduced a yet unfulfilled end that, since the very conception of a city began, has been the primary goal of a community. Based upon varying and evolving understandings of “all”–which often subconsciously or consciously excluded the existing built environment, some minority groups or underprivileged classes, and the natural environment–communities have continually evolved to support them.

With climate change, refugee crises, mass movement to cities, suburbanization in North America, and advancing pressure against social, racial and sexual hierarchies becoming increasingly evident in urban spheres, the traditional concept of a community is experiencing more challenges and transformations than, perhaps, it ever has before. As these challenges have begun to embody modern discussions around the built environment, key questions come to mind about the physical, cultural and social environments of our communities. What defines a city, or a community? Should communities be interdependent oases built from many diverse parts, or independent monoliths separated by land and culture? How might cities, with their concentrated emission of pollutants and greenhouse gasses, be our best bet to address climate change? What changes must large cities make to address higher costs of living and scarce housing stock? How can transportation options properly serve communities? With what measures can cities remedy existing inequities in their institutions? What place do rural communities and small towns play in a world of sustainable communities?

The Sustainable Communities Project, the third major Essays by William project, will consider and provide solutions to these questions, all from a research-oriented, student perspective. Using case studies from cities such as Munich, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; Innsbruck, Austria; Bolzano, Italy; Vienna, Austria; Boston, Massachusetts; New York City, New York; Chicago, Illinois; suburbs around the United States and Central Europe; and small towns in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Illinois, Nebraska and New Hampshire, the Sustainable Communities Project will discuss successes, challenges and failures and propose solutions to modern urban and community problems based upon real-world contexts. These case studies will include consideration of the urban rail systems in New York City and Boston; the urban forms of Valentine, Nebraska, and Delafield, Wisconsin; the regional rail systems in Copenhagen and Munich; the zoning codes in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, and Cambridge, Massachusetts; the housing stock and public transportation in small cities Innsbruck, Austria, and Bolzano, Italy; intercity rail systems in Germany, the rest of the Eurozone, and the United States; among others. These case studies, based upon my (William J. Gottemoller) personal travels in the United States and abroad, will provide context for the problems that modern cities face today, the differences in how these problems have been addressed between countries and regions, and the possible solutions that could support individual studied communities, as well as others more broadly.

Due to personal limitations (I am, indeed, a college student), there will be no set schedule for articles, and no limit to how many articles will be posted. I expect, however, that this will be a multi-year ordeal (barring new project ideas that distract me). Feel free to request post notifications by emailing the Essays by William official email address. Please also email this address if you have any concerns, questions, critiques, or inquiries.

Now more than ever, the future of our communities requires that planners and pundits alike approach the built environment with a remedial and objective mindset, rather than that of overhaul and revolution–we mustn’t let perfect be the enemy of the good, but rather good be our gateway to perfect. The Sustainable Communities Project will seek to do just that: Address the problems our cities face today, but with the nuance and empathy necessary to support effective solutions.


Jacobs, J. (n.d.). The Death and Life of Great American Cities.