- Reviewed by
Sadhu Aufochs Johnston, Steven S. Nicholas and Julia Parzen. 2013. Washington, DC: Island Press: $32.50 paperback. ISBN 978-1-610-91379-9. $31.99 e-book 978-1-610-91504-5. 264 pages.
From the seeing the value in a piece of paper to the development of district and regional plans, The Guide to Greening Cities covers a wide range of techniques cities across the United States have begun to adopt to make their cities more sustainable, efficient, and green. In addition, the authors include examples of how financing and community outreach strategies have been paired with these techniques to develop more robust outcomes.
This book takes the temperature of the green city today. Helping the reader understand the hurdles that come with greening a city and the process of building these new departments within established bureaucratic environments. In doing so, the guide provides much needed context for a still young and growing area of government. As Michael A. Nutter, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia explains in the forward, "sustainability is still a relatively novel municipal responsibility". These green city leaders, a term the book uses as a catch-all for the various titles given to those championing sustainable practices, have grown from a "very small invisible club" of individuals at a few select cities, to departments in over 300 cities (p. xii). Only 10 years ago, the one of the first meetings of green city leaders from various cities met at what would become the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (p. 12).
Our cities were first planned and constructed with a different reality. Modes of transportation such as cars, buses, bikes, and subways didn't exist. Utilities such as running water, electricity, and sewer systems were conditions of the future. As a result, we have adapted cities over time to welcome these new improvements. At the same time these additions were being made, they were added to the jurisdiction of various government agencies. If you look closely at city street, you will discover a complex web of jurisdiction. Water on the street often managed by one agency, the street itself by another, and tree pits by a third. These hard to understand boundaries make change challenging. The authors further explain that operating between these agencies has their own challenges "for people not familiar with city government, it can be quite surprising to see how each department is like its own silo, in which staff doesn't coordinate, or even communicate, with staff from other departments." (p. 24).
If we could start our cities from scratch, we would likely not design our infrastructure, transportation networks, and buildings using the same methods. Greening cities is to redefine and redesign these relationships so they can work more effectively together. One of the primary charges the book gives to green city leaders is to break down these silos. The authors suggest that this is done by listening and understanding the struggles and needs of agencies. With this understanding new strategies can be developed that pair the needs of the agency with sustainable strategies. They advise these pairings can be more competitive against other initiatives in the city and increase their likelihood to get funded.
The "Case in Point" sections of the book provide examples of different strategies green city leaders have used. These examples are one of the book's main strengths. Often case studies are limited in scope solely focusing on the outcome and the positive aspects of a project. Here they are honest, describing the whole process, how long change actually takes, and what successes have been to date. Gayle Prest suggests that green city leaders should "report the good, the bad, and the ugly. It becomes a conversation. It is really important that we all talk about what we are not doing well, so we can figure out what we need to bring into these issues." (p. 189). Acknowledging that change takes time and the outcomes of greening a city are often not as obvious as other city initiatives is a powerful statement the guide makes.
Many of the "Case in Points" are pilot projects, or test...