Shaping of sustainability efforts in cities
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In a report entitled Our Common Future, the World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (1987, Chapter 2, ¶ 1). Over the last three decades, the discussion of sustainable development has shifted to sustainability. Beset with ambiguity, the term sustainability has no fixed meaning and can encompass anything from the design of green buildings to the reduction of carbon dioxide to the introduction of renewable energy sources. With regards to policy, sustainability can entail land use, waste management, energy efficiencies, green jobs, and local food systems. The challenge of understanding what is meant by sustainability increases exponentially amidst local policy considerations. Hundreds of U.S. cities have at least considered sustainability to some degree. The perspectives from which to view these many local sustainability instances are countless, which makes for a complex sense-making exercise. There is no shortage of detailed information regarding what cities are doing. What is missing is a discussion that encapsulates and characterizes some of the general trends and challenges attending sustainability efforts in cities. This paper poses the question: What are the defining factors in shaping sustainability efforts in cities and how do these factors operate? Beginning with an overview of the importance of sustainability and why it matters for cities, the paper considers the context from which the sustainability movement emerged, namely as a facet of environmental policy, and then examines the major themes within the sustainability literature. This review informs the framework that is presented for understanding tensions that shape local sustainability initiatives. Finally, the framework is applied to a case study of Kansas City and various viewpoints of sustainability efforts within the city.