City Action: Civic Capacity and the Greening of the American City
64 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2020 Last revised: 10 Jun 2020
Date Written: April 21, 2020
Why do some cities tackle social problems such as climate change more proactively than others? Urban sociology emphasizes structural features of cities that explain variable efforts by municipal governments and developers. Yet cities appear agentic when they engage in coordinated efforts to address local problems — city action. This paper understands geographic variation in city action as the interplay of both formal exercises of authority by city administrations and uptake of new practices among organizations within the city. Both are enabled by civic capacity, which is indicated by a city’s persistent differences in the presence of nonprofit organizations. Geographic dispersion of green construction from 2000 to 2016 confirms that civic capacity shapes the disparity in climate-related city action. The civic capacity effect is greatest early on, because nonprofit organizations are themselves first adopters of green construction. Public policy also has a legitimating effect but is endogenous to prior individual certifications. These findings illuminate institutional determinants of responses to climate change, the varied consequences of civic capacity as a feature of cities, and an organizational understanding of cities as collective actors.
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