Academic journal article Cityscape

Understanding City Engagement in Community-Focused Sustainability Initiatives

Academic journal article Cityscape

Understanding City Engagement in Community-Focused Sustainability Initiatives

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many local governments are promoting sustainability initiatives, ranging from progressive urban design and development to climate protection. Past research suggests that governments are often motivated to act because of the possible co-benefits, such as cost savings, associated with sustainability. Many sustainability programs target inhouse city operations, however, thus ensuring that co-benefits accrue to local government while not imposing regulations on businesses or residents. Co-benefits might be less likely to drive decisionmaking when sustainability initiatives are directed to the larger community. In this article, we examine why some cities actively pursue the more difficult prospect of communitywide sustainability policy. We merge secondary data with original data from a survey of local governments to explore three broad theoretical influences on decisionmaking. (1) interest group pressure, (2) problem seventy or need, and (3) network strength. Our results suggest that, regardless of the institutional structure within a city, participation in some interlocal networks promotes communitywide sustainability initiatives.

Introduction

Local governments are increasingly investing in programs and initiatives to promote sustainability. Sustainability policy casts a broad net and can include a variety of initiatives ranging from climate protection and energy efficiency to comprehensive land use planning. Efforts to advance sustainability at the local level have garnered considerable scholarly attention. As early as 1987, the Brundtland Commission's report, Our Common Future, identified city governments as critical stakeholders in advancing sustainable development (WCED, 1987). Since then, scholars and practitioners have developed a vibrant research agenda exploring the meaning of sustainability (Hempel, 2009; Portney, 2009, 2003), evaluating its effects (Budd et al., 2008; Fitzgerald, 2010; Rabe, 2008; Upadhyay and Brinkman, 2010), and identifying the determinants of policies designed to promote local sustainability (Brody et al., 2008; Bulkeley and Betsill, 2005; Krause, 201 1; Lubell, Feiock, and Handy, 2009; Pierce, Budd, and Lovrich, 2011; Portney, 2009; Portney and Berry, 2010; Sharp, Daley, and Lynch, 2011; Zahran et al., 2008a, 2008b).

As scholarship in this area grows, two challenges remain. The first is the theoretical and conceptual challenge implicit in advancing a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between economic development and environmental policy. All too often, these concepts have been treated as competitive endeavors (see Hempel, 2009, and Portney 2003, 2009, for a broader discussion of this point), limiting our ability to understand the win- win scenario that advances both environmental policy and economic development. This suggests a need to explore how different cities capitalize on contemporary postindustrial global economic forces. The second challenge is the need to build on the numerous findings of co-benefits as motivators of city action on climate change and other sustainability initiatives. Many scholars have found that energy cost savings to city governments and similar co-benefits motivate policy adoption in this area (Betsill and Bulkeley, 2004; Bulkeley and Betsill, 2003; Kousky and Schneider, 2003; Portney, 2009). Although co-benefits are likely to loom large in decisionmaking aimed at city operations, it is less clear if this explanation holds when city governments develop communitywide sustainability policy that exceeds inhouse city activities. Benefits from communitywide policies are likely to drift across political boundaries, adding hurdles to pursuing broad-based sustainability initiatives (Rabe, 2004, 2008). Ultimately, communitywide sustainability initiatives are more complex than their inhouse counterparts, and we know less about why cities embark on these broader, more challenging sustainability paths. Indeed, recent research identified systematic differences between the determinants of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction policy aimed at inhouse city operations and those initiatives targeting the broader community (Feiock and Bae, 2011). …

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