U.S. Cities Taking Sustainability Seriously: The Impacts of Sustainability Policies on Economic Growth and Poverty

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Virginia Tech

According to Kent Portney's seminal two-part study, cities across the U.S. are taking sustainability seriously by implementing a range of sustainable policies and programs. Yet by doing so, low-income people are seemingly pushed further into poverty. Local government officials and policymakers however, are urged to take sustainability seriously, often by well meaning constituencies that may but do not necessarily include the poor. They thus have significant interest in continuing to implement such practices and policies. This thesis seeks to address the problem of the impacts that result from cities taking sustainability seriously. I ask two main questions: are cities that take sustainability seriously experiencing a boost in economic growth? And are these cities potentially experiencing a negative side effect of a rise in poverty rates? The findings from these research questions are provided through a mixed methods approach, first by quantitative data analysis. Secondly, and to supplement this, the thesis provides a qualitative case study analysis of three U.S. cities in the 'Rust Belt' region. Cleveland, OH, Indianapolis, IN, and Milwaukee, WI all 'take sustainability seriously' while addressing the problems of economic development and poverty. I conclude that these cities are hindered in their efforts to take sustainability, economic development and poverty seriously. The three cities have boosted local economic growth yet also experience an increase in poverty as a result of the economic recession of 2007-'08. The primary hindrance experienced by the cities is state level jurisdictional authority, exercised as 'neoliberalism' that undermines 'interventionist' efforts on the part of city governments to 'seriously' address sustainability, growth and poverty as interwoven problems.

Sustainability, U.S. cities, economic development, poverty, Rust Belt