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.
“Sirianni skillfully reveals how sustainable cities are as much about the processes of contesting, aligning, and blending policies as the products or outcomes of our public decisions. This book also engages with important issues of urban equity in sustainability—who benefits and who has power. Sirianni reveals that cities cannot become more sustainable unless they help connect institutions, policies, and social movements there 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 and director, Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, Berkeley
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.