Sustainable Cities in American Democracy
From Postwar Urbanism to a Civic Green New Deal
We face two global threats: the climate crisis and a crisis of democracy. Located at the crux of these crises, sustainable cities build on the foundations and resources of democracy to make our increasingly urban world more resilient and just. Sustainable Cities in American Democracy focuses on this effort as it emerged and developed over the past decades in the institutional field of sustainable cities—a vital response to environmental degradation and climate change that is shaped by civic and democratic action.
Carmen Sirianni shows how various kinds of civic associations and grassroots mobilizing figure in this story, especially as they began to explicitly link conservation to the future of our democracy and then develop sustainable cities as a democratic project. These organizations are national, local, or multitiered, from the League of Women Voters to the Natural Resources Defense Council to bicycle and watershed associations. Some challenge city government agencies contentiously, while others seek collaboration; many do both at some point. Sirianni uses a range of analytic approaches—from scholarly disciplines, policy design, urban governance, social movements, democratic theory, public administration, and planning—to understand how such diverse civic and professional associations have come to be both an ecology of organizations and a systemic and coherent project.
“Set against the twin crises of climate change and the erosion of Western democracy, Sirianni combines an empirically rich account of the gradual emergence of a ‘sustainable cities’ civic action field in the United States with an analytically grounded vision for a more sustainable, just, and democratic future for our cities. Anyone interested in our cities, or the fate of American democracy, will want to read this book.”
—Doug McAdam, Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, Stanford University, and coauthor of A Theory of Fields
“Sirianni reveals that cities cannot become more sustainable unless they help connect institutions, policies, and social movements that are too often fragmented and siloed. This work is extremely important for understanding how to move toward lasting and equitable policy change around many of today’s most pressing issues of human and planetary survival.”
—Jason Corburn, professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, director, Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Toward the Healthy City
“Carmen Sirianni masterfully integrates qualitative research, policy history, and institutional analysis to register the vital pulse of transformative, collaborative work on sustainable cities. Sirianni shows how democratic professionals at the federal, state, and municipal levels can engage concerned communities, support civic associations, and welcome local knowledge about urban development.Sustainable Cities in American Democracy is essential reading for students of environmental politics and contemporary democracy, professionals working in or alongside government agencies, and active citizens.”
—Albert Dzur, distinguished research professor of political science, Bowling Green State University, and author of Democratic Professionalism
“In this expansive book, Sirianni weaves together more than sixty-five years of historical sociology, from World War II to the Green New Deal, to tell the institutional story of the frames, logics, and social skills employed by social actors to advance the many strands of urban environmentalism—what today is coalescing around the central notion of sustainable cities. This book helps us to see that the sustainability challenges we face are institutional in nature and that cities are the central domain in which they will be engaged.”
—Andrew J. Hoffman, Holcim (US), Inc. Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, Ross School of Business/School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, and author of How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate
“This detailed analysis of the evolution of urban environmentalism in the United States from after World War II until the present provides essential background for anyone interested in how today’s sustainable cities movement came about. Sirianni’s institutionalist approach is a useful lens through which to view this history, and his call for a civic Green New Deal sets out an intriguing vision for the future.”
—Stephen M. Wheeler, professor in the Landscape Architecture Program of the Department of Human Ecology, University of California, Davis, and author of Planning for Sustainability: Creating Livable, Equitable and Ecological Communities,Second EditionSee fewer reviews...
The institutional field of sustainable cities has emerged with some core democratic norms and civic practices but also with many tensions and trade-offs that must be crafted and revised strategically in the face of new opportunities and persistent shortfalls. Sirianni’s account draws ambitious yet pragmatic and hopeful lessons for a “Civic Green New Deal”a policy design for building sustainable and resilient cities on much more robust foundations in the decades ahead while also addressing democratic deficits in our polarized political culture.