Community Well-Being: Safer, More Inclusive, More Resilient and More Sustainable Communities

A public survey distributed by Lismore council on ‘Housing and Growth for Lismore’s Future’ was thematically analysed for post-flood urban development to identify community supported solutions. Most of the comments struck at practical solutions like improving public transport, designing using evidence, constructing more community facilities and providing support to flood-affected residents. However many of the criticisms presented were strong conceptual problems of increased violent crime from public development and maintaining financial values of properties. This article attempts to explore some of the conceptual problems presented by these critics through exploring an understanding of community well-being, a veritable measure of our societal wealth.

In designing for community well-being green building rating tools provide some guidance. Their evidence and expert led stakeholder consultation has collaborated on frameworks for encouraging community well-being. Take for example the International Well Being Institute’s Community concept of their WELL v2 standard to build “a culture of health that accommodates diverse population needs” and “establish an inclusive, engaged occupant community”.

Building an engaged, inclusive and diverse community begins at the interpersonal level. For myself well-being is represented as a sense of physical and emotional safety. The desire for physical and emotional safety arises from a concern over health, safety, and security for identity. Well-being for myself doesn’t mean the absence of stress but stress which challenges me in a healthy way, though it shouldn’t become chronic stress because this type of stress is damaging for the mind and body. Part of the challenge of responding to stress in healthy ways involves extending goodwill and kindness during challenging moments, this may even include when faced with violence through martial arts training. Communities able to extend goodwill during those difficult moments promote healthy development that establishes safer, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable communities.

Utilising formal frameworks that work to systematically design our environments for improved well-being, like IWBI WELL concept ‘Community’ helps deliver outcomes which can be better measured and audited for accountability. However for these projects to take off people need to trust that their efforts will be rewarded through improved community well-being. People need to trust that these standards will deliver improved well-being among themselves, their interpersonal relationships and within their environment. Arising out of networks of trust, community collectives emerge that channel the energies of people towards common cause and larger changes even in the face of big challenges. For this to occur people need to feel safe in putting their hope and optimism behind a collective vision (McLeod & Zalta. n.d.). Hope and optimism for the future empowers us to create healthy social fabrics to ensure progressive development in our society for safer, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable communities.

However, there isn’t always trust within communities for each other, but instead a lot of distrust. Furthermore, the breaking of trust can cause people to feel a sense of betrayal. Distrust can result when we don’t believe that the other person can deliver on what we want them to do. Betrayal is represented in a broken promise which we trusted. For example, people’s concern for financial values of properties above housing people is now becoming the broken promise of liberal democracies as neoliberal economic policies divide the population into the ‘Market Included’ and ‘Market Excluded’ for home ownership (Forrest & Hirayama, 2015). Furthermore, the divide between home owners, renters and those made homeless after the floods in Lismore is partially reflected in the disdain for public development that those ‘Market Excluded’ vagrants unable to access home ownership through some moral fault of their own should not be assisted by government policy, regulation and support. Such regulation would disrupt the ‘natural order of the markets’. However conversely, the opposite is argued by Bodnar who considers that it is communities which espouse the behaviours of empathy and love that will be able to regenerate degraded institutional capacities for human development progress (Bodnar, 2018). Bodnar (2018) describes her relationship to empathy and love as an agent of renewal in terms of Marcuse’s concept Eros. Eros is defined by its aspect of satisfying humanity without a need for violence and involves an unification of humans and nature (Feenberg, 2018). Hence, the reestablishment of strong and healthy public institutions and governance within communities through expressions of love and empathy towards others represent a pathway towards advancement of our societies.

Peculiarly, the interesting phenomenon of interpretation to the liberal right to own private property could be a force that perpetuates an aspect of human nature towards violent domination. To understand why this may be, consider the historically recent view of rape against women. For most of the 20th century a women in marriage was only ‘raped’ when she was devalued in the eye’s of her husband or father under the rule of law (Fileborn, 2011). The premise of this was that a woman was property and she was owned by her husband or father. Today, ecofeminists have explored the deconstruction of the cultural phenomenon ‘man over nature’ to challenge and change “old hegemonic binaries” that reinforce ‘mans right’ to own nature and similarly women as private property without inalienable rights (Terreblanche, 2019; Tyler, 2008).

Through this concept of human’s right to own the land as private property without inalienable rights arises a relationship whereby violent domination resulting the ecosystem’s degradation can be justified as a freedom, when in reality this act is freedom taking and erodes long-term sustainability. Greenop (2020) presents a very different view of land ownership which contrasts with the increasingly hegemonic neoliberal ‘Market Included’ and ‘Market Excluded’ approach. In presenting her research on Indigenous place making and place identity Greenop (2020) considers that before ownership of the land can be claimed there must be meaning, attachment and identity for then a sense of ownership to arise. The concept of identity is explored within the philosophy of interpersonal love where two people become a union of their interests together and are no longer seen as separate (Bennett Helm & Edward N. Zalta, n.d.). In this vein our identity with nature through a reciprocal relationship which needs not control using acts of violence but love and connection could be a healing force. Furthermore, Greenop (2020) establishes that identity with the land is a bond that dissolves perceived separations between the person and the land invoking strong feelings of commitment. Therefore, it seems possible to maintain ownership of land through a sense of love for a place rather than market forces.

Overall, community well-being springs forth from a positive optimism of trust in others to achieve a better vision for the future. When trust is broken betrayal can result and then for institutions to reestablish themselves an exploration of love is necessary, alongside scientific progress which connects with nature rather than disconnects and destroys it. Part of this scientific progress involves challenging traditional ideas of private land ownership with land ownership that incorporates inalienable rights of the land and facilitates meaning making, attachment and shared identity to realise more sustainable futures which benefit the community well-being. This is the power of love and collective forces built out of trust, to realise a non-violent nature-integrated future.

sunset image with message "community well-being is integrated with nature's well-being"


Bodnar, S. (2018). Dialogues of the Heart: Living and Trusting through Moments of Betrayal: Discussion of “Some Thoughts on Trust and Betrayal.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 28(5), 581–585.

Feenberg, A. (2018). Marcuse’s Concept of Eros. Marxism and Psychoanalysis, Simon Fraser University.

Fileborn, B. (2011). Sexual assault laws In Australia. Australian Centre For the Study of Sexual Assault.

Greenop, K. (2018). Before Architecture Comes Place, Before Place Come People: Contemporary Indigenous Places in Urban Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. In E. Grant, K. Greenop, A.L. Refiti and D.J. Gleen (Eds.), The Handbook of Contemporary Indigenous Architecture (p. 527 – 547). Springer.

Forrest, R., & Hirayama, Y. (2015). The financialisation of the social project: Embedded liberalism, neoliberalism and home ownership. Urban Studies, 52(2), 233–244.

McLeod, C. & Zalta. E.N. (n.d.). Trust. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2021).

Terreblanche, C. (2019). Ecofeminism. In A. Kothari, A. Salleh, A. Escobar, F. Demaria and A. Acosta (Eds), Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary (p. 163 – 166). Tulika Books.

Tyler, L. (2008). “How beautiful the virgin forests were before the loggers came”: an ecofeminist reading of Hemingway’s The End of Something. The Hemingway Review, 27(2), 60–73.