Sustaining Sustainable Cities: Building Grassroot and Elite Support for Long-Term Urbanism
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Chattanooga, Tennessee is considered to be amongst the most sustainable cities in the United States. Kent Portney’s research (Taking Sustainability Seriously) places the city in the top ten most seriously engaged in promoting sustainability. At the same time, Chattanooga is well known for its use of civic engagement and partnership-based economic development tools, often called the “Chattanooga Way,” to revitalize its downtown and waterfront. These two factors are not unrelated, as social capital and civic engagement are often cited as necessary ingredients of successful sustainability efforts. Research to date, however, has not explored this relationship effectively. Previous research linking civic capacity to sustainability has largely focused on the environmental aspects of sustainability. Of equal concern are the economic and equity aspects. In this light, sustainability in the city and region cannot depend solely on the concentrated redevelopment of the urban core, which constituted the initial focus of Chattanooga’s sustainability efforts. More recently, the City of Chattanooga has actively sought to expand the focus of its sustainability efforts both into the neighborhoods within the city and across the region. This presentation explores the link between civic engagement and sustainability, with a particular emphasis on the impact of civic engagement on moving cities beyond traditional sustainability goals (that emphasize environmental-economic values) to more holistic goals (that integrate equity concerns explicitly into the environmental-economic-equity balance). This work hypothesizes that capacity of cities to engage more holistic goals emerges out of the civic capacity developed from earlier efforts to promote civic engagement in sustainability efforts. The presentation explores the processes by which this growth in civic engagement occurs, its interaction with sustainability efforts, and the longer term implications for maintaining the social capital needed to promote sustainability.