Elgar Companion to Sustainable Cities
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Elgar Companion to Sustainable Cities

Strategies, Methods and Outlook

Edited by Daniel A. Mazmanian and Hilda Blanco

Against a backdrop of unprecedented levels of urbanization, 21st century cities across the globe share concerns for the challenges they face. This Companion provides a framework for understanding the city as a critical building block for a more sustainable future within broader subnational, national and continental contexts, and ultimately, within a global systems context. It discusses the sustainable strategies being devised, as well as the methods and tools for achieving them. Examples of social, economic, political and environmental sustainable policy strategies are presented and the extent to which they actually increase sustainability is analyzed.
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Chapter 21: Sustainable cities and governance: what are the connections?

Daniel J. Fiorino


Is a city that cannot govern itself sustainable? The answer in nearly all cases is that it is not. A city that fails to meet the core expectations of governance – maintaining order, making and carrying out collective decisions, providing basic services – will not be able to sustain the ecological, social and economic aspects of the concept of sustainability. In this sense, effective governance describes a set of capacities that make sustainability possible in its broad dimensions. Yet the role of governance in defining and making a transition to a more sustainable society receives limited attention in the literature. It is, to a degree, captured in the social dimension of sustainability, but has generally been defined vaguely and wrapped normatively in issues of participation, equity and transparency. In Our Common Future, seen as a foundational document on the concept, the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987, p. 63) described sustainability as ‘promoting citizens’ initiatives, empowering people’s organizations, and strengthening local democracy’. The empirical relationships of these goals with ecological and economic sustainability and the need for effective governance receive only limited attention. The theme of this chapter is that the concept of sustainability as it has evolved over the last few decades has neglected the crucial role of governance. To be sure, several elements associated with effective governance are captured to some degree in the social dimension of sustainability.

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