Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development

Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development

Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development

Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development


Here is a refreshing look at how American cities are leading the way toward greener, cleaner, and more sustainable forms of economic development.

In Emerald Cities, Joan Fitzgerald shows how in the absence of a comprehensive national policy, cities like Chicago, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle have taken the lead in addressing the interrelated environmental problems of global warming, pollution, energy dependence, and social justice. Cities are major sources of pollution but because of their population density, reliance on public transportation, and other factors, Fitzgerald argues that they are uniquely suited to promote and benefit from green economic development. For cities facing worsening budget constraints, investing in high-paying green jobs in renewable energy technology, construction, manufacturing, recycling, and other fields will solve two problems at once, sparking economic growth while at the same time dramatically improving quality of life. Fitzgerald also examines how investing in green research and technology may help to revitalize older industrial cities and offers examples of cities that don't make the top-ten green lists such as Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio and Syracuse, New York. And for cities wishing to emulate those already engaged in developing greener economic practices, Fitzgerald shows which strategies will be most effective according to each city's size, economic history, geography, and other unique circumstances. But cities cannot act alone, and Fitzgerald analyzes the role of state and national government policy in helping cities create the next wave of clean technology growth.

Lucid, forward-looking, and guided by a level-headed optimism that clearly distinguishes between genuine progress and exaggerated claims, Emerald Cities points the way toward a sustainable future for the American city.


As an urban planner interested in sustainable development, I found myself making a pilgrimage to several European cities known for incorporating practices associated with sustainability and for reducing their carbon emissions. My goal was to identify practices that could be replicated in the United States. It was in Freiburg that I experienced an “aha moment.” What I learned is that a city’s sustainability and climate change strategies could also be engines of economic development.

Freiburg, a university town of 216,000 in the Ruhr Valley of southwest Germany, epitomizes how a city can work creatively to integrate environmental and economic-development goals. Freiburg is home to Vauban, a large green neighborhood of about 20,000 residents that illustrates the city’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainable development. On this visit, my guide is Wulf Daseking, the city’s director of planning. As we walk through blocks of colorful apartment buildings nestled along narrow streets designed more for children playing than car traffic, he points out solar arrays on the building tops and explains passive solar elements such as louvered shades on the balconies of some buildings that move to let in or block out sun depending on the time of day and season.

We don’t have to watch for cars, as there are hardly any. Residents cannot park on the streets; if they have a car, it must be parked in a garage just outside the neighborhood. Most residents bike to work or take advantage of the free tram passes the city provides to discourage . . .

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