The notion of “sustainability” as embodied in Khan’s paradigm actually had its origins in the international environmental law and policy of the 1970s and 1980s. In a document known as A Blueprint for Survival (The Ecologist, 1972, cited in Basiago, 1995). It was said that the industrial way of life with its ethos of expansion, is not sustainable. The rates of growth of population and consumption are undermining human survival prospects by disrupting ecosystems and depleting resources.
“Sustainable Development” first appeared in the World Conservation Strategy drafted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1980, who suggested that it should be advanced through “conservation”, defined as “the management of human use of the biosphere so that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations (Eblen and Eblen, 1991 cited in Basiago, 1995). In the same year, Cousteau wrote in his Bill of Rights for Future Generations that “future generations have a right to an uncontaminated and undamaged earth...each generation has a duty as a trustee for future generations to prevent irreversible and irreparable harm to life on Earth” (cited in Basiago, 1995). Such a duty, more popularly known as the “futurity principle” will ensure sustainability.
Similarly, the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, in what is more widely known as the Brundtland Report, defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs”.
in June 1992, the Earth Summit was held and was attended by over 120 nations to
endorse “sustainable development” as an economic and environmental policy of
extreme importance in the 21st century. The Earth Summit produced a document
known as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992 cited
in Basiago, 1995) wherein in its 27 principles, it was repeatedly indicated
that economic development and environmental protection should be integrated.
Agenda 21, a fifth accord to come out of the Rio de Janeiro , is a blueprint on how to make
development socially, economically and
environmentally sustainable (Keating, 1993 cited in Basiago, 1995). Summit
The applicability of sustainable development as a concept, through time, has transcended boundaries. For over two decades, a wide array of definitions developed as its applicability penetrated different fields and bodies of knowledge. It is now said that if you throw a stone in any direction, you will likely hit three definitions of sustainable development.
In the arena of planning, the notion of sustainable development could be particularly applied in pursuing a plan or design science that will integrate growth and urbanisation with nature preservation and social enhancement.
Millichap (1993, in Basiago, 1995) posed that both the temporal dimension of sustainable development (concern for future generations) and its spatial dimension are actually long established concerns of city and regional planning. The relevance of sustainability to land-use planning is in the interplay of its future and spatial dimensions. To illustrate the point, Millichap (1993, in Basiago, 1995) cited as an example the compact city that allows for efficient transport and thus reduced carbon emissions, and therefore protects the future generations from global warming. To this, Calthorpe (1993), agreed and likewise blames suburban sprawl as the cause of some major urban ills. According to Calthorpe, urban growth boundaries should be set to preserve natural features at the edge of the metropolis and such boundaries should be large enough to accommodate growth for the next generations and small enough to encourage in-fill, redevelopment and medium to high density living.
The core of the idea is that planners must move away from the design philosophy which seeks to bend nature to its will and should rather conceive new design concepts and physical plans which would be in consonance with what nature dictates. In “The Hannover Principles”, McDonough (1992, in Basiago, 1995) urged designers and planners to “ insist on the rights of humanity and nature to coexist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition because the elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world” (p.116).
The concept of sustainable development is now regarded as a new philosophy in which principles of futurity, equity, global environmentalism and bio-diversity must guide decision-making (Basiago, 1995). An exhaustive look at the available literature on “sustainable development” since the early 70s yielded that the concept is no longer just an aspiration or a goal. It has evolved into a principle to govern activities at all levels of a system, a quality that characterises social interaction that will yield vitality. According to Basiago (1995, p.118), “it is no longer just a doctrine enshrined in the rarefied reaches of political philosophy” but can now be treated as a valid research methodology and analytical tool in various fields, to include social sciences. The concept can be treated as similar to the empirical method which sets up a schema for asking important questions but does not provide, a priori, an answer. It can provide selection criteria which would aid in identifying all the valid alternative solutions for the problem at hand. The questions that may be generally asked by virtue of the sustainability principle are: Will the future generations have an undiminished stock of natural capital? Is it equitable now and for the future? What will be its short and long-term impacts on the global environment?