Many cities across the United States have embraced programs aimed at achieving greater sustainability. This may seem surprising, particularly since adopting aggressive environmental protection programs is regarded by some as inimical to economic development. An alternative perspective is that in the modern city sustainability can be part of an economic development strategy. What is largely missing from the literature on sustainable cities’ policies and programs is systematic analysis of the political dynamics that seem to affect support for, and adoption and implementation of, local sustainability policies. To explore the actual behavior of cities with respect to sustainability and economic development policies, two original databases on 50 large U.S. cities are used. One source of data is composed of survey responses from city councilors, agency administrators, and leaders of local advocacy groups in each of these cities. The second database contains information as to what these 50 cities actually do in terms of sustainable programs and policies. In testing a series of hypotheses, findings suggest that: a high number of programs aimed at achieving sustainability is linked to the inclusion of environmental advocacy groups; that this relationship is not compromised by business advocacy; and that inclusion of environmental groups in policymaking seems to be supported, rather than impeded, by high rates of economic growth by the cities.
By “interest group” we mean “an organization that tries to influence government.” This definition does not restrict such organizations to membership associations and, thus, nonmembership organizations like corporations are included. We use the terms “lobbying” and “advocacy” interchangeably to indicate any tactic designed to influence government directly or indirectly through public opinion; See: Berry, J.M.; Wilcox, C. The Interest Group Society, 5th ed.; Pearson Longman: New York, NY, USA, 2009.
The six banks that were members of the Vault in 1982 are Shawmut, Bank of Boston, Boston Safe Deposit and Trust, Bank of New England, the Provident Institution for Savings, and the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank. The Boston Safe Deposit and Trust is now part of the Mellon Bank (Pittsburgh) and the Boston Five Cents Savings was merged into what is now the Citizens Bank, which in turn is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland. The others went through various mergers that eventually made them part of the Bank of America, which has been headquartered in North Carolina since its merger with NationsBank. The State Street Bank, which is not a retail bank but an investment bank, was a member of the Vault and remains headquartered in Boston.
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After a preliminary creation of the universe of interest groups in the largest forty cities, it became clear that by dropping the four largest cities, ten smaller cities could be added. Thus, the survey focused on fifty of the largest fifty-four cities
To incentivize respondents to fill out the questionnaire, recipients of the questionnaire were offered the opportunity to win one of three $100 gift cards from Amazon.com. The mailings included a pre-paid (stamped) postcard allowing the respondent to provide his/her name and to be entered into the gift card raffle. This mailing also included a new $1 bill, which exerts significant influence on the response rate; See: Dillman, D.; Smyth, J.; Christian, L.M. Internet, Mail, and Mixed Mode Surveys: The Tailored Design Method, 3rd ed.; Wiley: New York, NY, USA, 2009; pp. 238–242.
The survey of interest group advocates is not used here but the response rate for it was also high, 49.2 percent; See: ICMA. Local Government Sustainability Policies and Programs, 2010; International City/County Management Association: Washington, DC, USA. Available at: http://icma.org/en/icma/knowledge_network/documents/kn/Document/301646/ICMA_2010_Sustainability_Survey/ (accessed on 31 January 2013).
Another way of analyzing these relationships is through some sort of interaction effect. There are really two possibilities here: one is to compute an interaction variable as a function of the business inclusion and environmental group inclusion variables above, and, to then conduct a regression analysis with all three variables included in the equation. The second is to go back to the original survey data and define a new variable as the percent of administrators who report both inclusion of businesses and environmental groups, and to include this in the regression analysis. There are two problems with the former. First, it is difficult to interpret the results. Second, this interaction variable is highly correlated with the inclusion of the environmental groups variable, so multicollinearity precludes including them both in the same regression analysis. Following the second alternative, the percent of administrators who reported inclusion of both types of groups was computed, and this variable was added to the aggregate city database analysis. This doesn’t solve the multicollinearity problem because the correlation between this new variable and the inclusion of environmental groups is almost .9, which precludes analyzing it in a single regression. Both the interaction variable and the new “both” variable are correlated with the sustainability score at about the .40 to .45 level.
The scoring for liberal/very liberal is derived from a 7 point scale (1=very liberal, 4=moderate, and 7 = very conservative). The “balance” data comes from a question that is worded: “It’s sometimes the case that economic development and environmental protection come into conflict. Although each issue is unique in its own way, if you were to make a generalization about how city officials choose between competing visions of what is best for the city, how would you rate your local government?” Respondents were given the choice of statements and asked to check the one that “comes closest to describing your city.” Those statements were: (a) Strongly favors economic development; (b) Economic development somewhat more a priority; (c) Equal balance between economic development and environmental protection; (d) Environmental protection somewhat more a priority; and e) Strongly favors environmental protection.
Betsill, M.; Rabe, B. Climate Change and Multilevel Governance: The Evolving State and Local Roles. In Toward Sustainable Communities: Transition and Transformations in Environmental Policy, 2nd; Mazmanian, D., Kraft, M., Eds.; MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 2009; pp. 201–226.