Evaluating the Contribution of City Initiatives towards Sustainability
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Growing concerns over environmental degradation and resource availability issues have prompted an increased interest in strategic planning, aimed at better protecting environmental and ecosystem services while simultaneously promoting social inclusion and economic development. As large centers of population, economic activity and resource consumption, cities play an especially important role in achieving improved environmental quality, economic stability and social character. However, managing these impacts without compromising the economic and social character of the city can be challenging and complicated to implement. The response to this challenge has varied across metropolitan regions of the U.S. Several cities, including New York, Philadelphia and Seattle, have adopted comprehensive and broadly‐framed sustainability plans that address environmental, economic and social concerns. However, other cities have chosen to address urban sustainability by adopting separate environmental plans and social or economic initiatives that aim to address specific issues, such as energy efficiency, water quality, or economic development. While several frameworks and evaluations have been undertaken to determine whether a single comprehensive city sustainability plan can be considered adequate or effective, few have investigated the adequacy of the combined impact from multiple environmental, energy, climate, economic and/or social plans in cities without overarching sustainability plans. In this study, the proposed and recently accomplished initiatives undertaken by two cities, Washington, DC and Detroit, are compiled and evaluated against a set of sustainability criteria. Because the cities’ initiatives are not part of a comprehensive plan, the assembled initiatives were also evaluated against a set of governance criteria. This evaluation aims to identify, (1) whether the environmental, social and economic initiatives undertaken by two well‐established cities can be looked at together to address the common elements of comprehensive sustainability plans, and (2) whether they may be considered effective implementation plans. The paper will also investigate if there are particular strengths and weaknesses to these informal contributions toward sustainability. Evaluating these “decentralized” plans against a sustainability evaluation framework provides the following opportunities: • Determine if or whether the cities’ ongoing environmental, economic and social initiatives meet the general indicators associated with formal sustainability plans. • Identify the strengths and gaps in each city’s plans, and whether the strengths or gaps are consistent among multiple cities. • Investigate the potential effectiveness of the cities’ ongoing initiatives as an informal sustainability plan, especially with respect to implementation and tracking. The evaluation indicates that while both cities have established a number of initiatives in support of sustainable tenets, there are opportunities for improvement with regard to tracking and promoting the initiatives.