Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously

From American and Comparative Environmental Policy

Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously

Economic Development, the Environment, and Quality of Life in American Cities

By Kent E. Portney





Today at least twenty-five major U.S. cities have pursued some form of sustainability initiative. Although many case studies and "how-to" manuals have been published, there has been little systematic comparison of these cities' programs and initiatives. In this book Kent Portney lays the theoretical groundwork for research on what works and what does not, and why. Distinguishing cities on the basis of population characteristics and region for his analysis, Portney shows how cities use the broad rubric of sustainability to achieve particular political ends. Cities that take sustainability seriously, such as Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, use broad definitions that go well beyond concern for the physical environment or creating jobs. They pursue sustainability at many levels and integrate concern for economic development, the environment, and quality of life across all activities of city government. Cities that take sustainability less seriously, such as Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando, confine it to such issues as solid waste disposal, brownfields, redevelopment, and neighborhood beautification. Still other cities, such as New Haven, Brownsville, and Milwaukee, do considerably less to work toward sustainability. Portney begins by reviewing the conceptual underpinnings of sustainable development and sustainable communities. The comparisons that follow provide a foundation for assessing the range of what is possible and desirable for sustainability initiatives. In the book's conclusion, Portney assesses the extent to which cities can use the pursuit of sustainability either to foster change in public values or merely to reinforce values that are already reflected in systems of governance.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262162135 300 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262661324 300 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • The focus on 'communities' in this book is perhaps an important guide to the future.

    Sylvia Karlsson



  • Kent Portney has taken the movement for sustainable development a big step forward with his fresh and rigorous examination of American cities and their efforts to become better, more livable places. If sustainability is the buzz word that launched a thousand academic conferences, then Portney's book is sure to help us better navigate these choppy waters, providing us with a clearer, deeper understanding of the destination, as well as how to get there.

    William Shutkin

    Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT

  • In this ground-breaking study, Kent Portney shows that cities all across the country have joined the battle to solve environmental problems. Finally, here is a book that takes the environmental-urban connection seriously. A work like this is truly overdue.

    Dennis R. Judd

    Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Chicago