CivicGreen reviews publications that are useful for thinking and acting on community sustainability and resilience in the United States, with a focus on civic models of problem solving, collaboration, and policy design. Books will be listed and briefly annotated, with selective reviews that are more extensive. Our approach is to tease out what we see as most distinctive and valuable, not to offer critique, which is better done in an academic or other journal. To recommend publications, email us at

For handbooks, guides, and other toolkits, also see our Toolbox.

Recent and enduring works in our Bookshelf

We try to keep up with important books that provide insight into civic and green innovations across many fields. In some cases, our editorial team, senior editorial associates, and guest reviewers can provide full reviews. In other cases, we provide a short annotation, with a link to ordering information. As resources and time permit, these shorter annotations serve as a launch pad to fuller reviews.

Full reviews

Melissa Bass, The Politics and Civics of National Service: Lessons from the Civilian Conservation Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2013). Full review.

A superb study of the politics and civics of national service over three periods of innovation: the 1930s (Civilian Conservation Corps), the 1960s and beyond (Volunteers in Service to America), and the 1990s and beyond (AmeriCorps). Its analytic and normative perspective elaborates the possibilities and challenges of “public policy for democracy” at the national level and can guide further development of national service generally, which has an increasingly important place for the work of developing more sustainable and resilient communities in the face of climate change.

Lindsay K. Campbell, City of Forests, City of Farms: Sustainability Planning for New York City’s Nature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017). Full review.

A very readable, yet analytically rigorous comparative study of urban forestry and urban farming in New York City, particularly as these developed through PlaNYC, initiated in 2007 by the administration of mayor Michael Bloomberg. A terrific resource for undergraduate and graduate teaching, as well as for urban planning. A model of engaged scholarship, rigorous and critical yet rooted in practice and within the range of realistic strategic choices that civic and institutional actors face.

Elizabeth Cherry, For the Birds: Protecting Wildlife Through the Naturalist Gaze (Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2020). Full Review.

This book provides a thoughtful, thorough, and illuminating look into the experiences of birders and their development of what Cherry terms the naturalist gaze. The naturalist gaze allows birders to see themselves as part of a large, complex ecosystem in a unique way. Birders provide a model for thinking about the learned expertise citizens can provide during citizen science projects. This book is highly engaging and it would fit well in any undergraduate or graduate course that considers the expansive possibilities of citizen science.

Dana R. Fisher, Erika S. Svendsen, and James Connolly, Urban Environmental Stewardship and Civic Engagement: How Planting Trees Strengthens the Roots of Democracy (New York: Routledge, 2015). Full review.

This is a careful and highly informative study of participants in tree planting and stewardship during New York City’s One Million Trees Campaign, which was part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlanNYC efforts to make the city more sustainable. It presents a nuanced understanding of how stewards became involved in deeply place-based work and how they mixed and sequenced other forms of civic and political engagement in complex ways.

Michael Méndez, Climate Change from the Streets: How Conflict and Collaboration Strengthen the Environmental Justice Movement (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020). Full review.

Méndez explores the ways that environmental justice activists engage in California’s climate policy planning process. Using the concept of “climate change from the streets,” Méndez explores how activist’s embodied knowledge can serve as an important tool in mitigation and adaptation planning. His case study of Oakland presents a rich analysis of how a broad coalition of groups contested effectively, yet developed collaborative ways to work with government and other stakeholders through an array of public forums, workshops, youth performances, games, and other methods. A masterful work that is at once clear and readable; would work well in an undergraduate or graduate level course.

Benjamin J. Pauli, Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019.) Full Review.

This book provides a rich and compelling account of how ordinary citizens of Flint, Michigan, a predominantly African American city with a storied labor history facing decades of deindustrialization and disinvestment, fought to expand local democracy to respond to the water crisis that left families and especially children vulnerable to massive lead contamination and other pollution. Local democracy enriched options but was not without its own conundrums, including movement ambitions and radical forms that often outran realistic political opportunities and made it difficult to organize residents in effective and sustainable ways or to stabilize broader partnerships. The author offers a complex analysis that resists, as he puts it, a storybook account.

Christina D. Rosan and Hamil Pearsall, Growing a Sustainable City? The Question of Urban Agriculture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017). Full Review.

This book engages with critical questions about the connections between urban agriculture in sustainable cities and explores the complexities of place making and decision making around urban land. Using the case of Philadelphia, the authors explore the historical linkages between the vacant lot cultivation of the late 1890s, the urban agriculture resurgence of the 1990s, and the way we understand urban agriculture today. Rosan and Pearsall provide a critical perspective on the long-term possibilities of urban agriculture in sustainability planning.

Short annotations

Sy Adler, Oregon Plans: The Making of an Unquiet Land Use Revolution (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2012). Order info.

This book tells the story of the origins of Oregon’s renowned land-use planning program in the 1970s. The author provides an especially fine-grained account of the complex processes aligning local civic engagement of various types with planning, advocacy, legislation, stakeholder strategies (among farmer, industry, and environmental groups), conflict resolution, and monitoring of the Growth Management Act. The engagement process was developed by the Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee of the new land conservation and development commission and leveraged local engagement practices of neighborhood associations in Portland, Salem, and Eugene, as well as other participatory projects. Thousands of citizens participated in land use workshops across the state, which were imperfect in some ways, but provided one key component in the overall mix that permitted the state to address its land use problems in a pragmatic and sustained fashion, which included weathering various ballot measures to undo the law.

Jason Corburn, Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005). Order info.

Develops the foundational concept of street science as the creative melding of local and professional knowledge. This can happen through grassroots struggle and collaboration among community-based organizations and professionals in various institutions, such as local hospitals, medical schools, and regulatory agencies. Corburn develops four cases in depth (lead poisoning, asthma, subsistence anglers, and community and youth mapping of toxic sites) in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint section of Brooklyn in the 1990s.

Jason Corburn, Toward the Healthy City: People, Places, and the Politics of Urban Planning (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009). Order info.

Develops a rich and expansive understanding of healthy communities as ones that engage ordinary residents and civic associations in the collaborative work of co-creation with planning, public health, and a broad range of other city departments and institutional stakeholders. Corburn links environmental and health justice closely to civic engagement and draws upon fieldwork in various neighborhoods of San Francisco.

David de la Peña, Diane Jones Allen, Randolph T. Hester Jr, Jeffrey Hou, Laura J. Lawson, and Marcia J. McNally, eds. Design as Democracy: Techniques for Collective Creativity (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2017). Order info.

This self-described cookbook of recipes, techniques, and stories from the U.S. and around the world seeks to renew participatory design to help unleash creativity and redistribute power. It is designed for use in academic, professional, grassroots and youth contexts, and is filled with wonderful photographs and drawings.

Angela C. Halfacre, A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Low Country (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2012). Order info.

A rich and multifaceted methodological study of the emergence and development of a “culture of conservation” in the coastal zone of South Carolina. Set against the powerful development interests that shape this area, the author analyzes support for conservation as it has emerged among multi-generational farmers, African American basket makers, and homeowner associations, as well as among some important political, business, and media elites. Her study throws light on how actors in this arena maintain a balancing act involving pragmatic tradeoffs.

Beatrix Haselsberger, ed., Encounters in Planning Thought: 16 Autobiographical Essays from Key Thinkers in Spatial Planning (New York: Routledge, 2017). Order info.

These autobiographical essays by leading spatial planners provide an indispensable window into the development of the field, including theory and the education of several generations of practitioners who have studied with these leading scholars. Several essays (John Forester, Judith Innes, Patsy Healey) bear directly upon democratic professional practice, and deliberative and collaborative work that has been and will continue to be vital to building further capacities for sustainability and resilience planning.

Jeffrey Hou, Julie M. Johnson, and Laura J. Lawson, Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning from Seattle’s Urban Community Gardens (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009). Order info.

Analyzes the development of Seattle’s community gardening system (P-Patch), utilizing rich civic and institutional analysis, combined with in-depth case studies and beautiful photographs. Important lessons for community groups, social justice activists, urban planners, and landscape architects and designers.

Sara Hughes, Repowering Cities: Governing Climate Change Mitigation in New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019). Order info.

The author examines how the three largest cities in North America have built institutional, coalitional, and civic capacities to enable strategies for the reduction of GHG emissions. While conscious of the long road ahead, she traces the diverse pathways and pragmatic choices within an urban governance analytic framework that has much relevance to other cities. “Repowering” captures the dual challenge of reconfiguring the systems that provide power to cities (for transportation, public housing, and the like), as well as harnessing the governing powers needed for transformational change.

Eric Klinenberg, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). Order info.

The author’s analysis of institutional vulnerability to the 1995 heat wave in Chicago is accompanied by an illuminating comparative study of two neighborhoods, one largely African American and one largely Latino, whose physical streetscapes and ecologies of social support made one far more vulnerable to heat-related deaths than the other. The analysis of neighborhood social ties, churches, block clubs, and everyday street life are key factors at work. This book is quite relevant to resilience strategies in an era of climate change.

Rachel M. Krause and Christopher Hawkins, Implementing City Sustainability: Overcoming Administrative Silos to Achieve Functional Collective Action (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2021). Order info.

Forthcoming in January 2021, this study addresses the knotty problem of how cities integrate sustainability goals across various bureaucratic silos, such as departments of planning, public works, parks and recreation, and community development. The authors utilize a national data set, as well as eight city case studies, to develop their “functional collective action” framework.

Christopher A. Lepczyk, Owen D. Boyle, and Timothy L. V. Vargo, eds., Handbook of Citizen Science in Ecology and Conservation (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2020). Order info.

Truly one of the outstanding handbooks for organizing complex civic work, in this case among citizens and scientists in a broad range of ecological and conservation settings. The chapters are crafted with extraordinary care and clarity and give due attention to virtually every aspect of recruiting, motivating, and retaining lay contributors and partners; collecting, managing and visualizing data; and communicating results to broader publics. The book represents a model of democratic professional knowledge and practice that can further build the institutional capacities of this critically important field. It includes contributions from leading practitioners situated in an array of settings:  universities, Extension Services, natural resource, park and wildlife agencies, local, regional, and national associations and conservancies. The volume is exceptionally coherent and comprehensive and avoids the typical pitfalls of many edited collections.

Jeff Mapes, Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2009). Order info.

A clear and compelling history of the bicycle movement as it developed from 1970. The author, a journalist, follows the movement carefully through its difficult internal conflicts and missed opportunities from the 1970s to the 1990s, and then examines the emergence of militant Critical Mass rides, the fruitful shifts from confrontation to collaboration in a variety of cities, as well as the transformation of the movement’s national organizations. He includes good case study chapters of Davis (CA), Portland (OR), and New York City. He also discusses the policy background that enabled the movement to make huge strides in the 1990s and thereafter through the Surface Transportation Policy Project, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and its successor laws that incentivized bicycle and pedestrian association engagement and public participation in transportation planning. Mapes also examines how the movement developed a multi-sided safety strategy, and linked the movement to health, families, and kids. The author has an especially close, flesh-and-blood relationship to a wide range of civic and professional actors in the field.

Richard D. Margerum, Beyond Consensus: Improving Collaborative Planning and Management (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011). Order info.

An indispensable and well-organized overview of collaborative governance and policy models, especially in natural resource and ecosystem management. The author develops a useful typology that includes: 1) action collaboratives, which focus on direct, on-the-ground action, such as monitoring ecological conditions, restoring watersheds, enhancing habitat, reintroducing and managing fire, improving land management, and educating stakeholders and the public. These are primarily generated by independent civic and nonprofit groups; 2) organizational collaboratives, which engage formal government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, with the goal of changing their roles or improving their programs; and 3) policy collaboratives, which focus on policy deliberations, higher-level administrative roles, and legislative change. The author’s framework shows that these vary on a continuum, with hybrid and nested forms and changes from one phase to another, thereby providing a developmental framework especially useful for larger policy discussions. The book proceeds through critical discussion of topics such as stakeholder deliberation and public participation; social, inter-organizational, and political networks; and key capacity building challenges. The book is filled with case study analyses, and author draws upon many scholarly sources, as well as his extensive field and practitioner experience.

Beth Rose Middleton Manning, Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011). Order info.

This book explores the fascinating combination of cultural, conservation, and watershed partnerships, along with environmental justice, on Indian land, especially through land trusts, both Native and non-Native. The author’s case studies range across California, and include several in other states as well. Multiple cross-sectoral partnerships enable unique land transactions as well as productive stewardship and business development. Tribes, Native nonprofits, and informal Native associations come together in various configurations, along with federal, state, and local agencies, non-Native citizen groups, funders, and legal counsel. Complex property and power relationships present various challenges. One major challenge is holding mega-casino resort complexes at bay.

Susan L. Moffitt, Making Policy Public: Participatory Bureaucracy in American Democracy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014). Order info.

This book offers a rigorous study of federal advisory committees that are enabled by the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, and now number more than one thousand. The author examines in depth fifteen committees within two federal agencies, and concludes that this form of “pragmatic participatory bureaucracy” is quite effective where task implementation is fundamentally interdependent and distributed and where knowledge flows multi-dimensionally across networks of many kinds of actors. Under these conditions, it is quite rational for bureaucratic actors to seek genuine input from multiple actors, including grassroots groups and everyday practitioners that may have different kinds of expertise than scientific and industry experts. Participatory bureaucracy can enhance legitimacy and reputations and enable public administrators to avoid visible failure. It can also enhance democratic accountability. This book is highly relevant for enabling civic policy guidance to federal agencies in the work of sustainable, resilient, and just communities in an era of climate crisis.

Daniel T. O’Brien, The Urban Commons: How Data and Technology Can Rebuild Our Communities (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018). Order info.

The author offers an in-depth but clearly written study of Boston’s 311 reporting system that permits ordinary Bostonians to report potholes, graffiti, broken street lights and other problems via a mobile app, website, and Twitter account. While not directly about urban sustainability, O’Brien offers an incisive analysis of the potential of reporting systems like this to enable everyday custodianship of places and coproduction among citizens and government professionals. The book theoretically grounds the field of “urban informatics” in deep dispositions to territoriality and coproduction that can further anchor strategies for sustainable, resilient, and just cities in the years ahead.

Jeffrey Peterson, A New Coast: Strategies for Responding to Devastating Storms and Rising Seas (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2019). Order info.

In the face of recurrent storms and rising seas comes this stunningly complex and comprehensive yet strikingly clear analysis that locates the obstacles to confronting sea level rise in institutional dynamics that operate through real estate markets, federal insurance and disaster response programs, local tax revenue, home investment, community attachment, moral hazard, temporal discounting, and other factors. The author unravels each of these in a way that provides openings for creative action at different levels and through diverse policy tools and administrative channels within federalism. While not primarily about the civics of resilient green approaches, the book maps how publics need to be engaged in ways that align with various tools of governing resilience and retreat from the shore that are cost effective, ecologically sound, and socially equitable. Not just an indispensable text for graduate and professional training and policymaking; this book should itself be a course, perhaps in the form of online webinars, with visualization tools, scenario planning, and games.

Kent E. Portney, Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously: Economic Development, the Environment, and Quality of Life in American Cities, second edition (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013). Order info.

This is the second, updated addition of this indispensable work on the development of sustainable cities in the U.S. The author discusses the conceptual foundations of sustainable cities as well as issues of measurement. He incorporates community, participation, and equity as essential concepts, with special attention to the role of nonprofits. The core of the book utilizes original survey data to construct a 38-point index and a set of rankings to help think about how 55 cities are “taking sustainability seriously,’ while not venturing more problematic estimates of actual performance. He has one chapter each on core cases among large, medium, and smaller cities. An important work with broad sweep, as well as instructive cases.

Jeremy Rifkin, The Green New Deal (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019). Order info.

As part of his detailed roadmap for a post-carbon transformation of the U.S. economy, the author draws upon European experience to propose “peer assembly governance” as a core civic design. These assemblies would include representatives from labor unions and chambers of commerce, elected officials and civic associations, economic development agencies and universities, among others. Congress would fund centers in each state to organize and coordinate peer assemblies across their cities and counties for the express purpose of preparing Green New Deal roadmaps. Whether one accepts the Green New Deal nomenclature or not, the peer assembly design may have relevance for other proposals in Congress that include a role for state climate plans.

Hal K. Rothman, The New Urban Park: Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Civic Environmentalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004). Order info.

This book tells the rich history of the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and its environs in 1972, as well as its transformation into a model of civic engagement among the often contending user communities, balancing recreation, tourism, ecology, environmental education, community history and cultural resources. U.S. Representative Phil Burton championed the park in Congress and insisted on a citizens’ advisory committee to guide decommissioning of military installations and to promote further growth and development. Park planners – especially Doug Nadeau, who sought to set a standard for the National Park Service – convened some 400 initial meetings and workshops for public deliberation and to spark productive collaboration among civic and user groups, park managers, and landscape architects. Partnerships today extend to many kinds of organizations and institutions, including the San Francisco school district and the San Francisco Conservation Corps.

Carmen Sirianni, Sustainable Cities in American Democracy: From Postwar Urbanism to the Civic Green New Deal (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2020). Order info.

This study examines the development of sustainable cities as a complex institutional field over seven decades, placing action through multiple civic, social movement, and professional organizational forms at the center of analysis. It includes the emergence of participatory planning, watershed restoration, new urbanism, green building, bicycle and pedestrian planning, and urban farming, and examines integrative framing processes, including environmental justice and healthy communities. City case studies build upon urban governance theory, and policy analysis is informed by the perspective of “public policy for democracy,” as well as complex deliberative and relational systems.

Kathleen Tierney, Disasters: A Sociological Approach (Medford, MA: Polity, 2019). Order info.

An incisive overview of sociological perspectives on disasters, which have increasing relevance in an era of climate change. Her analysis of “disaster resilience” is especially relevant for understanding the civic and democratic dimensions and potential drawbacks of social capital, which she considers alongside other forms of capital: human, economic, housing, infrastructure, institutional, community, and environmental. Tierney links her analytic concepts to a range of toolkits used in the field today. Valuable for undergraduate and graduate courses, professional training, and work in the field.

Edward P. Weber, Bringing Society Back In: Grassroots Ecosystem Management, Accountability, and Sustainable Communities (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003). Order info.

Analyzes the emergence and development of grassroots ecosystem management (GREM) in hundreds of communities, with in-depth case studies of three. GREM engages multiple stakeholder groups, from local community and environmental groups to ranchers, farmers and loggers to work collaboratively for ecosystem and economic sustainability, placing a high value on joint practical work that can be accomplished together, even in places characterized by fierce contention. The case analyses are tightly linked to the theoretical challenges of achieving social trust, deliberative richness, and democratic accountability in such partnerships. While hostile regulatory developments in federal land management have foreshortened GREM potential in recent years, Weber’s rigorous analysis holds many lessons for moving forward.

Steven Lewis Yaffee, Beyond Polarization: Public Process and the Unlikely Story of California’s Marine Protected Areas (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2020). Order info.

A superb and complex, yet fascinating and often vivid story of multi-stakeholder and science-based collaborative problem solving under California’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act in four very different regions of the state. The process created a network of 124 marine protected areas up and down the entire 840-mile California Coast, akin to “Yosemites of the Sea.” Public participation, including intensive work with tribes and rural communities in contexts where conflict is often endemic, was a key component of the process, which holds broad lessons for collaborative ecosystem management.

Check out our Most Recent Reviews