Sustainable Cities in American Democracy

From Postwar Urbanism to a Civic Green New Deal

Carmen Sirianni

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.

“The lessons that [Sirianni] imparts while exploring the evolution of environmental activism are timely and will undoubtedly add to the discourse as America moves toward a democratic Green New Deal.

—H-Net Reviews

“Sirianni offers a broad, academic perspective in this extensively reference book, which is an informative overview of the field and the challenges it faces.

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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.

About the Author

Carmen Sirianni is Morris Hillquit Professor of Labor and Social Thought and professor of sociology and public policy at Brandeis University. His books include Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance and, with Lewis A. Friedland, Civic Innovation in America: Community Empowerment, Public Policy, and the Movement for Civic Renewal.

Additional Titles in the Environment and Society Series