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.
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As we review books, we sometimes recruit their authors to join our editorial team. However, the editor-in-chief decides on which books to review.
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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.
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. A new Civilian Climate Corps is emerging on these foundations.
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 activists’ 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; it 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.
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.
Amanda J. Baugh, God and the Green Divide: Religious Environmentalism in Black and White. (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017). Order info.
In her in-depth ethnographic study of Faith in Place, the author unpacks a critical period of its vibrant development as a multi-faith and multi-racial organization in the Chicago area. Initially a project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which has deep roots in grassroots projects as well as within the city’s formal efforts to develop as a sustainable city with a broad range of greening strategies and climate planning, Faith in Place leveraged female leadership and pluralist yet largely progressive Protestant faith traditions to elicit collaboration across white as well as well as African American and Latino congregations, along with a smaller selection of Jews, Muslims, and a few others. It tapped justice traditions but framed environmental justice communities as dignified actors (not just victims) who could contribute to earth stewardship, conservation projects, solar energy, and a variety of personal and family behaviors and faith rituals. Baugh is acutely aware of some of the conundrums and ironies that its initial strategy posed, but is also appreciative of the growth it enabled as it became a more professionalized organization with more stable funding and far broader outreach across hundreds of congregations in Chicago and surrounding Illinois communities.
Lisa Blomgren Amsler, Janet Martinez, and Stephanie E. Smith, Dispute System Design: Preventing, Managing, and Resolving Conflict (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020). Order info.
This ambitious synthesis of many types of dispute resolution makes clear that we can design dispute system policy “upstream, midstream, and downstream” to complement civic engagement and public deliberation to help solve wicked problems and to enhance capacities for collaborative governance. While the authors do not address climate change directly, they appreciate the “nested systems of complexity” that characterize organizational, community, and natural resource systems, as well as the broad array of issues – human and civil rights, property and security, water and food – that dispute system design (DSD) can help address. Indeed, without creative combinations and sequences of DSD and civic engagement, it is virtually impossible to imagine how we can govern coastal resilience and retreat or site green energy and electricity lines, among other challenges, in a timely, effective, just, and democratically legitimate fashion.
Mawell Boykoff, Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019). Order info.
“Facts derived from scientific findings are helpful but they are not enough,” and throwing more facts at people will not move them to action. While fully aware of climate contrarian organizations, funders, and strategies, Boykoff develops core principles and strategies for creative climate communication that can move us beyond the typical information-deficit models and engage people as actors in context, community, and culture. He explores a range of alternative and complementary practices, including relational, narrative, artistic, gaming, even comedic ones that can effectively connect with selective audiences in resonant ways. The goal is to get people to care and act, to learn and adapt creatively, to discover common ground and trust that often eludes other modes of climate communication and argument.
Susan Charnley, Thomas E. Sheridan, and Gary P. Nabhan, eds., Stitching the West Back Together: Conservation of Working Landscapes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). Order info.
This book is the product of a wonderful collaboration among ranchers, foresters, and academics to tell the stories of collaborative community conservation across the patchwork of public, private, and tribal lands and jurisdictions in the westerns states. It makes a strong analytic argument for sustainable working landscapes at the large scale – “stitching back together” – as critical to the conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. More than a dozen case studies provide insight into collaborative processes among the owners of private lands, public land managers, tribal members, grazing permittees, private contractors, civic and nonprofit groups, and community and volunteer crews. Their work is informed by deep respect for the local knowledge and stewardship ethic of those who work the land, as well as the expert knowledge of conservation biologists and other professionals. The authors pay special attention to the economics of collaborative conservation, including the role of private capital, government support, funding from nongovernmental organizations, and market dynamics. They also consider how to strengthen partnerships among rural and urban Westerners.
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.
Stephen Ellingson, To Care for Creation: The Emergence of the Religious Environmental Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Order info.
The author analyzes the emergence and development of the religious environmental movement in the US from the early 1990s onward and how its organizations are distinct from secular groups. The book is rich in its understanding of the cultural motifs of creation care and stewardship, as well as environmental justice, that motivate those in the 63 organizations that he studies across Catholic, mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish, Buddhist, and ecospiritual groups, as well as interfaith and ecumenical ones. It offers a cultural-institutionalist perspective that goes beyond social movement resource mobilization and political opportunity structures. Since a good deal of their work focuses on land and water stewardship, energy conservation, air pollution, sustainable food, and climate change, their culturally embedded emphases can enrich civic approaches with the capacity to energize and legitimate vigorous action at the edge of hope and beyond the culture wars. Nonetheless, there are persistent tensions to navigate. An inspired analytic contribution that is readable and filled with stories of transformation.
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.
Katherine Hayhoe, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World (New York: Atria/One Signal Publishers, 2021). Order info.
The author, an academic scientist as well as the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, provides an exceptionally clear and compelling account of how to have productive conversations on climate change, even among people whose cultural and political tribes tend to polarize their views. She draws upon interdisciplinary research across the social sciences, as well as the language of faith and stewardship in which she is personally rooted. Her chapters are rich with stories of her own communicative practice in tough settings as she unpacks the limits of facts, fear, shame, and guilt, and as she teases out common values, relational strategies, and inspired engagement. Hayhoe challenges us “to bring our hearts to the table, not just our heads.” A wonderful book to guide everyday civic talk, as well as to prepare for holiday family gatherings!
Andrew J. Hoffman, Management as a Calling: Leading Business, Serving Society (Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, 2021). Order info.
The author, whose early foundational work mapped important shifts in business strategy towards sustainability, sets the far more challenging tasks of how to shift market institutions and cultures towards “creative transformational change at the systemic level” to grapple with climate change and inequality. His focus is on how business schools can nurture the next generation of leadership that is inspired by deep moral and public purpose and embedded in democratic politics, broadly conceived as effective policy, regulatory norms, civil society, and respectful discourse. One might even say management as a democratic and moral calling. The book lays out core questions for business school curricula, as well as how we might imagine networks mutually supporting our youngest graduates for decades to come. And since Hoffman counsels against too much high-carbon travel by jet-setting executives, one might envision annual multi-industry and multi-sector nonprofit forums in every city as strategic gatherings, moral convocations, and cultural festivals. Purpose, relationship, and celebration of commitment and hope.
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.
Andreas Karelas, Climate Courage: How Tackling Climate Change Can Build Community, Transform the Economy, and Bridge the Political Divide in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 2020). Order info.
The author is the founder and executive director of RE-volve, a nonprofit that enables local communities to go solar. In this book, he builds upon this experience and extends his positive message of courage and hope to other areas of work, drawing upon faith communities and initiatives such as Interfaith Power and Light. His language has considerable appeal across partisan lines.
Robert B. Keiter, Keeping Faith with Nature: Ecosystems, Democracy, and America’s Public Lands (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003). Order info.
A compelling analysis of the emergence and development of collaborative conservation and ecosystem management on public lands in the West. The author combines a complex understanding of scientific, legal, political, and administrative systems with deep sensibility to democratic engagement and collaborative governance without downplaying the challenges of the latter. The chapters proceed through in-depth case studies of key controversies and incorporate the challenges of tourism, service industries, and industrial-scale recreation with the more familiar ones of ranching, logging, and mining. We cannot secure biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration without sustained democratic innovation within our complex systems of governance, markets, and communities. “In our efforts to keep faith with nature, we must also keep faith with our democratic heritage.”
James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf, American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2016). Order info.
A keen sociological analysis and important contribution to disaster studies. The book is based upon extensive interviews with actors across the waterfront, particularly those in maritime occupations, who mobilized their cultural identities, skill sets, tools, and relationships to help evacuate from 300,000 to 500,000 commuters and residents in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Much of their efforts were improvised and spontaneous, though the authors steer a careful and nuanced path between planning and civic initiative that can help guide the work of the many kinds of organizations key to the shocks of climate crisis. As they conclude, “what we need as a society is resilience grounded in diverse institutions, industries, and skills, a resilience that is energized by a willingness to assemble those fundamentals into new systems.” Plenty of lessons for public agencies and for training.
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.
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. Their four-fold typology includes lead agency consolidation (Fort Collins), lead agency coordination (Kansas City and Orlando), relationships and bargaining (Providence, Ann Arbor, and Oakland), and decentralized networks (El Paso and Gainesville). Essential reading, filled with analytic insight and practical lessons.
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.
Adina Merenlender with Brendan Buhler, Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect California (Oakland: University of California Press, 2021). Order info.
Filled with “stories of hope,” this book offers a wonderfully readable account of a wide array of stewardship work across the state of California. As important, it offers a suggestive account of how the University of California Climate Stewards courses and Cooperative Extension staff help build the capacity for robust civic work by ordinary people creating resilient communities and ecosystems in a way that should clearly be further expanded and emulated in Extension Services across the country. We see stewards monitoring plant and wildlife communities and restoring ecosystems in the wake of wildfires at the urban-wildland interface, urban flooding and sea level rise along the coast, snowpack shortfalls in the Sierra, even more intensive heat in the deserts and heat island effects in cities. We see farmers, ranchers, foresters, Indigenous tribes, inner city and suburban communities enlisting to learn and coproduce solutions.
Well grounded in scientific knowledge, yet presented with a light, clear, and inspired touch, this is a perfect book for undergraduate and high school classes, book clubs, youth groups, and just about any civic association or community group looking for productive ways to contribute positively in the face of climate threats.
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 edition 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.
Cybelle T. Shattuck, Faith, Hope, and Sustainability: The Greening of US Faith Communities (Albany: SUNY Press, 2021). Order info.
This book presents a careful analysis of fifteen diverse faith communities across the US that have engaged in sustained work over a period of years in creation care and stewardship. These faith communities – 10 Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist congregations and 5 monastic communities – engage in land stewardship, restoring ecosystems, environmental justice, and resource conservation, as well as policy and shareholder advocacy. The author utilizes interviews, field observation, and archival data to develop rich case studies, as well as a systematic framework for thinking about the roles played by differently situated actors: the core group of sustainability champions, the key faith leaders, the broader group of congregants, and those responsible for the organization’s larger repertoire of activities, such as worship services, religious education, and facilities management. Since more Americans belong to religious organizations than to any other type of voluntary association, the implications of Shattuck’s findings are immense. As one of her participants notes, “In doing is the seed of hope.”
Sara Shostak, Back to the Roots: Memory, Inequality, and Urban Agriculture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2021). Order info.
A rich analysis that explores urban gardening in cities across Massachusetts, with in-depth case studies of Boston, Somerville, and Lowell. The author focuses especially on local ethnic and racial culture and collective memory as a source of community empowerment, ethnic bridging, and civic integration. Culture is complemented by the materiality of dirt, and especially the health and fiscal challenges of contaminated soil in communities facing long histories of discrimination and environmental injustice. Neighborhood engagement, as well as an ambitious process of urban agriculture “visioning” among a wide range of city agencies and nonprofits in Boston, orient stakeholders to various possibilities, including commercial and high-tech hydroponic models for local and regional food production. An essential book for mapping some of the key challenges and conundrums of urban food systems responsive to diverse civic and commercial voices, as well as to democratic urban governance in an age of climate change.
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.
Peter Walker, Sagebrush Collaboration: How Harney County Defeated the Takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2018. Order info.
The armed takeover of this national wildlife refuge in southeast Oregon in January 2016 by outside militants (with some local support) rejecting federal authority captured national attention, yet it was defeated primarily by local public sentiment and local elected officials. Walker tells this story vividly yet carefully through his account of public meetings and in his in-depth interviews, through his complex understanding of land use and federal grazing, and especially through his analysis of the culture of collaboration that had taken deep root over nearly three decades prior. Local ranchers had become core members of partnerships with land managers of multiple federal agencies, as well as with conservationists from the Portland Audubon Society, the Oregon Natural Desert Association, Waterwatch, and the Burns Paiute Tribe. Among the collaboratives were the Harney County Restoration Collaborative, the High Desert Partnership, the Steen Mountain Advisory Council, the Harney Basin Wetlands Initiative, the Malheur Comprehensive Conservation Plan, and other initiatives –an array geared to pragmatic problem solving that might have impressed Tocqueville himself. Helping with facilitation and capacity building were Oregon Consensus (located at Portland State University) and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. Building relationships was key and aided community resilience in the wake of some quite intense conflict.
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.
Mark Winne, Food Town, USA: Seven Unlikely Cities That Are Changing the Way We Eat (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2019). Order info.
A long-time leader in the community food security movement whose 2017 book, Stand Together or Starve Alone, offered a poignant challenge to the demoralizing disunity in the field, turns his attention in this book to the quieter “food revolution” taking place in communities across the country. Written in a thoroughly engaging and clever style, with humorous formulations – such as the sumptuous grain-fed burger at Fegley’s Brew Works in the old steel town of Bethlehem, PA, whose “sheer righteousness envelops you in a virtuous glow of sustainability” – Food Town USA takes us from Bethlehem to Boise and beyond. Winne interviews key actors, including the brew masters and chefs, city council members and philanthropists, farmers and food bank volunteers, culinary arts students and faith leaders, regional economic development staff and food policy council leaders. Some communities are re-emerging from de-industrialization, others struggle with long-standing racial, ethnic, and Native Alaskan inequities – this is not just a book about foodies or attracting young professionals, but it is about them too. The main takeaways: civic actors of all sorts can draw upon everyday social relationships as well as leverage these by collaborating to build an innovative food system through networks, food policy councils, city leadership, and inspired individuals.
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.
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