Contents

How Do Local Officials Conceptualize Sustainability as Practiced in Their Communities?

Hofmeyer, Sarah L. / Hawkins, Christopher V. / Krause, Rachel M. / Park, Angela Y.S.

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Abstract

Problem, research strategy, and findingsAlthough they play a key role in shaping local efforts, there is limited research on how city officials define sustainability as it is practiced in their communities. To address this limitation and contribute to planning research, we leveraged a unique nationwide data set of sustainability definitions provided by the sustainability lead in more than 400 U.S city governments. Our study's qualitative analysis of these statements complements existing research by exploring emerging themes on how sustainability is perceived and practiced at the local level. Results indicated that practitioners' conceptualizations reflected five general orientation categories: action, aspiration, emotion, process and organization, and progress. We evaluated the association of these general orientation categories with cities' administrative arrangements, political environments, resources, and capacities. Findings suggested that supportive contexts were associated with city sustainability staff defining sustainability in aspirational terms, as opposed to emphasizing progress or discrete actions.Takeaway for practiceWe examined how city sustainability leaders characterize its practice, using their own words provided in response to an open-ended survey question. We found that organizational context, including the presence of a sustainability budget, staff, and political support, was associated with differences in the fundamental nature of the responses provided. This is important because these local government officials influence how the broad objective of sustainability is practiced in their communities. Overall, our research adds value to the planning profession by assessing how sustainability professionals defined sustainability with greater nuance than previous studies and establishing a departure point for explaining why such differences exist.

Issue Date
2024-03
Publisher
American Planning Association
Keywords Plus
Urban Sustainability; Us Cities; Definition; Governance; Protection; Policies; Pillar
Keywords(Author)
City Sustainability; National Survey; Qualitative Analysis; Sustainability Planning
DOI
10.1080/01944363.2024.2312941
Journal Title
Journal of the American Planning Association
Start Page
1
End Page
13
ISSN
0194-4363
Language
English
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