Green in their own way: Pragmatic and progressive means of cities to overcome institutional barriers to sustainability

39 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2022 Last revised: 10 Mar 2024

See all articles by Ana Gonzalez

Ana Gonzalez

University of Chicago - Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation

Christof Brandtner

University of Chicago - Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; University of Chicago - Department of Sociology; EM Lyon (Ecole de Management de Lyon)

Date Written: March 3, 2024

Abstract

If cities are to realize their potential as leaders of innovative sustainability policy, they require both symbolic resources such as social capital and legitimacy and material resources such as financial and technical support. Although recent research in urban studies has shown how network associations help cities overcome institutional barriers to urban sustainability, this work has underestimated the importance of variations among member cities in terms of how serious they are, or can afford to be, about sustainability. We argue that cities taking sustainability more seriously have different material and symbolic resource needs from those that take sustainability less seriously. Drawing on qualitative data from 53 in-depth interviews with city officials across the sustainability-seriousness spectrum, climate network leaders, and other organizations supporting cities, we confirm this variation by identifying that cities tend to face one of two distinct sets of resource needs. Cities with pragmatic needs seek to push the boundaries of political feasibility and look to peer cities for reassurance; cities with progressive needs aim to push the boundaries of technical possibility and broadcast their achievements to the world. We conclude that different sets of needs require different external support mechanisms, and we note that skewed attention towards cities that already take sustainability seriously limits our understanding of how cities can overcome institutional barriers to climate action, especially when these barriers are particularly high. Our findings offer contributions to literatures on cities and climate change, the institutional drivers of urban sustainability, and network governance.

Keywords: cities and climate change, symbolic and material resources, institutional barriers, network governance, organizational legitimacy

JEL Classification: P23, L44, O18, P25

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Ana and Brandtner, Christof, Green in their own way: Pragmatic and progressive means of cities to overcome institutional barriers to sustainability (March 3, 2024). Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper 33, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4284821 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4284821

Ana Gonzalez (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation

5735 S Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Christof Brandtner

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

5735 S Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

University of Chicago - Department of Sociology ( email )

23 Avenue Guy de Collongue
Écully
France

EM Lyon (Ecole de Management de Lyon) ( email )

23 Ave Guy de Collongue
Ecully, 69134
France

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