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Neighborhood Sustainability Indicators

Neighborhood Sustainability Indicators Project
Urban Ecology Coalition, Minneapolis—1997 to present
Coordinated by Crossroads Resource Center

First such effort in the U.S.!

As far as we have been able to learn, the UEC Sustainability Indicators project is the first effort of its kind in the country. We appear to be the first U.S. city to invite neighborhood residents to define their own indicators of neighborhood sustainability for self-assessment based upon their organization’s goals. As of the start of our effort, no city government had adopted resident-defined indicators for neighborhood sustainability.

At times, sustainability indicators have been defined by city officials or professional experts and imposed on neighborhoods from above; or indicators have been selected at a city or regional level without taking into consideration specific neighborhood concerns at all; or neighborhood organizations have measured the success of their own programs without assessing whether the community itself is getting more sustainable.

Our two neighborhood partners, Seward Neighborhood Group and Longfellow Community Council, have developed practical sets of 10 "data poetry" indicators in collaboration with our professional staff. These indicators were defined after addressing the question, "What is our vision of life in our neighborhood 50-100 years from now?" Also, each indicator integrates across the "ecology" of issues neighborhoods face day to day.

In the past both of our partners had treated these (e.g., housing, economic development, public safety and so forth) as separate issues. As a result of this initiative, both have decided they would like to address these issues in a more integrated manner. Our indicators are designed to be useful to residents in developing and implementing long-term neighborhood strategies for sustainability.


Working with residents, we selected 104 key indicators of neighborhood sustainability. These include 10 “Data Poetry” indicators, 25 “Core” indicators, 45 “Background” indicators, and 24 “Deep Sustainability” indicators. We believe these make an excellent starting set for any community to consider using, revising them according to local issues, local capacities, and local needs. In Seward neighborhood, these indicators are being compiled for use in long-term planning for neighborhood development. Our pioneering indicators work has informed and inspired similar efforts in Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore, and Burma.

What is Data Poetry?

“Data Poetry” is a term we used for resident-defined indicators that, like good poems,transformlocal discussions about sustainability, helping the community move toward a more long term view of sustainability, and galvanizing effective local action.

One excellent example is the Akwesasne reservation that looks at the balance between the moose and wolf populations. Since this tribe is highly dependent upon hunting for game, a healthy balance of moose and wolf means the community is likely to thrive. When things get out of balance, then disease or pollution may be making life difficult for people as well as for the animals.

To learn more, read Crossroads’ Neighborhood Sustainability Indicators Guidebook.

Twin Cities Data Doorway — Your one-stop entry point to community data sources

Crossroads’ Hennepin County Census Data home page.

FREE! PDF Icon Neighborhood Sustainability Indicators Guidebook


  1. To assist Minneapolis neighborhoods / communities that seek to become more sustainable to develop indicators to assess progress toward their own sustainability goals.
  2. To encourage the City of Minneapolis to adopt resident-defined indicators of neighborhood sustainability as official neighborhood indicators.


Urban Ecology Coalition
Crossroads Resource Center
Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance
Dayton Hudson Foundation
Longfellow Community Council
Seward Neighborhood Group
Mississippi Corridor Neighborhood Coalition
Green Institute—Environment and Transportation Committee
Minneapolis Center for Neighborhoods
Lyndale Neighborhood Association
Sustainable Resources Center
Neighborhood Revitalization Program
Minneapolis City Planning

What Is Sustainable Development?

“The long-term social, economic, and environmental health of our community.”
—Sustainable Seattle

Two defining characteristics of sustainability:

  • Interdependent: considers links among multiple issues
  • Long-term: focuses on more than just the current generation

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” —UNCED [Brundtland report]

“Having your cake and sharing it, too.” That is, living well today without forcing our grandchildren to pick up the tab.

What Are Indicators?

  • Provide evidence of conditions or problems.
  • Help us evaluate whether local actions are having the effects desired.
  • Help us determine where are we are and whether the direction we are headed is consistent with the goals we set for our community.
  • Allow us to hold ourselves, public officials, funders and institutions accountable.
  • Reporting tool to be used to build consensus on action.

Limits to the Usefulness of Indicators

  • Provide a snapshot or glimpse of a larger situation.
  • Help measure change over time—but don’t measure end objectives.

What Are Sustainability Indicators?

“Urban sustainability indicators can be distinguished from simple environmental, economic, and social indicators by the fact that they are: integrating, forward looking, distributional, developed with input from multiple stakeholders in the community.” —Virginia Maclaren, University of Toronto

Sustainability indicators do not just measure change, but describe the direction the community is moving in a way people understand.

Setting in motion processes that will help ensure that the goals of the community will not just be achieved but that they will continue.

Free publications to download on Sustainability Indicators

Indicator Roundtables

Read the minutes of the Annual Neighborhood Sustainability Indicators Roundtables here.