With the announcement on Wednesday, December 3rd, of the overview of recommendations from Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon’s Sustainability Commission, the region enters an exciting and important time. The jurisdictions directly responsible for the majority of the Baltimore metropolitan region, including not only the City of Baltimore, but Baltimore County and the State of Maryland, now have visions for sustainability. As environmental researchers encompassing ecology, social sciences and economics, who contribute to the Baltimore Ecosystem Study research program, we are immensely encouraged by this commitment to sustainability.

Sustainability is a goal for society that seeks to insure the social, economic, and ecological health and adaptability of our shared environment. Health of this three part, unified system is important because it is the source of the environmental, social, and economic resources and services we all depend on for sustenance and well being. Adaptability is an important part of sustainability because it is not realistic to keep systems from changing. Events like cycles of wet and dry weather, severe hurricanes, economic cycles, shifting locations of investment, social disruption, and new social interactions all can cause unexpected changes in our cities, towns, and the surrounding countryside.

For sustainability to be a reality, three things are key. One is good knowledge about the environmental processes the rest of the system depends on. The Baltimore Ecosystem Study is a research and education project that helps complement the knowledge generated and managed by municipal, county, and state agencies. Although traditionally each agency, say, parks, public works, or housing, has some of the key data and expertise, sustainability requires knowing how the system as a whole works. This is why coordinating activities with the goal of sustainability in mind is so important. It provides a way for seemingly separate agencies and indeed separate jurisdictions to work together to promote the current health of the Baltimore ecosystem.

The second key for sustainability is to understand how this whole metropolitan system might respond to different ecological, social, and economic changes in the future. Here especially is where the Baltimore Ecosystem Study may reinforce and complement the activities of the different agencies and governments. By providing scientific information and contributing to a socially motivated dialog, the research and education we are charged to accomplish can help policy makers, managers, and citizens to understand how their decisions can influence sustainability.

The third key is political will. With the announcement of the recommendations of Mayor Dixon’s Sustainability Commission, an important part of the puzzle for facilitating the health and adaptability of the Baltimore region falls into place. It identifies a suite of actions that are both relevant to people’s daily lives and for improving the quality of life in Baltimore City’s neighborhoods. But it is also a symbol of political will. Without that, no amount of scientific information will be of any use. Combining the thinking, planning, and activities aimed at promoting sustainability that now exist in the city, county and the state, the Baltimore region can become a national model for linked sustainability of city, suburb, and countryside.