Green American City: Civic capacity and the distributed adoption of urban innovations

72 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2020 Last revised: 8 Aug 2022

See all articles by Christof Brandtner

Christof Brandtner

University of Chicago - Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; emlyon Business School

Date Written: May 31, 2022


Why do some cities adopt practices to resolve social and environmental problems more rapidly and extensively than others? Although diffusion studies emphasize administrative adoption by central authorities, a range of private and public organizations are involved in the distributed adoption of innovations. I argue that variation in the adoption of urban innovations results from persistent differences in cities’ organizational communities. An econometric analysis of the geographic dispersion of green construction practices and policies demonstrates that cities with greater civic capacity, where values-oriented organizations recognize and tackle social problems, see quicker and more extensive adoption. The effect is largest early in the diffusion process because nonprofits are themselves early adopters of green construction. Municipal policies later legitimate green building, but they follow prior distributed adoption among individual organizations. The sequential framework of distributed and administrative adoption contributes to the understanding of the institutional determinants of responses to climate change, nonprofits as catalysts of urban innovation, and the consequences of urban governance on an intercity scale.

Keywords: civic capacity, administrative and distributed adoption, practice diffusion, urban governance, organizational communities, green construction, nonprofit organizations

Suggested Citation

Brandtner, Christof, Green American City: Civic capacity and the distributed adoption of urban innovations (May 31, 2022). Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper No. 20, Available at SSRN:

Christof Brandtner (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation ( email )

5735 S Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

emlyon Business School ( email )

23 Avenue Guy de Collongue

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