Oct. 19, 2016




Report Offers Road Map and Recommendations to Help U.S. Cities Become More Sustainable, Learn From Other Cities’ Experiences


WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine offers a road map and recommendations to help U.S. cities work toward sustainability, measurably improving their residents’ economic, social, and environmental well-being. The report draws upon lessons learned from nine cities’ efforts to improve sustainability – Los Angeles; New York City; Vancouver, B.C.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Grand Rapids and Flint, Michigan. The cities were chosen to span a range of sizes, regions, histories, and economies.


The report recommends that every U.S. city develop a sustainability plan that not only accounts for its own unique characteristics but also adapts strategies that have led to measurable improvements in other cities with similar economic, environmental, and social contexts.


“Given than 80 percent of the U.S. population now lives in urban areas, cities are pivotal in efforts to improve sustainability,” said Linda Katehi, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and chancellor emerita of the University of California, Davis. “While there is no cookie-cutter approach, the innovative methods now being developed in some cities should be helpful to others.”


The report examines the nine cities’ experiences and extracts lessons from them that should be applied in other cities, such as:

§  Sustainability planning should take a city’s regional and national context into account. Actions in support of sustainability in one area should not be taken at the expense of another; urban leaders should integrate sustainability policies and strategies across scales, from block to neighborhood to city, region, state, and nation.

§  Cities’ efforts to improve sustainability should include policies to reduce inequality. This aspect of sustainability planning is often overlooked but is essential to improving quality of life both for those with the fewest resources and opportunities and for a city’s entire population.

§  City planners should be aware of the rapid pace of factors working against sustainability – such as climate change, scarce resources, and economic shifts -- and prioritize sustainability initiatives with appropriate urgency.


The report also offers a road map that cities can use to guide their efforts, walking planners through the process from planning and adopting principles, to design and implementation, to assessing impacts and learning from outcomes.


The study was sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.orgA committee roster follows.



Riya V. Anandwala, Media Officer

Rebecca Ray, Media Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu



Copies of Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu  or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).




Policy and Global Affairs Division

Science and Technology for Sustainability Program


Committee on Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities


Linda P.B. Katehi1 (chair)

Chancellor Emerita

University of California



Charles Branas


Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology

University of Pennsylvania



Marilyn A. Brown

Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems

School of Public Policy

Georgia Institute of Technology



John W. Day

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

School of the Coast and Environment

Louisiana State University

Baton Rouge


Paulo Ferrao


University of Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal


Susan Hanson2

Distinguished University Professor Emerita

School of Geography

Clark University

Worcester, Mass.


Chris T. Hendrickson1

Hamerschlag University Professor

Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and of Engineering and Public Policy

Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy

Carnegie Mellon University



Suzanne Moomaw

Associate Professor

School of Architecture

University of Virginia



Amanda Pitre-Hayes

Director of Planning

Vancouver Public Library

British Columbia, Canada


Karen C. Seto

Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science

Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Yale University

New Haven, Conn.


Ernest Tollerson

Board of Directors

Hudson River Foundation

New York City


Rae Zimmerman

Professor of Planning and Public Administration

New York University

New York City




Jerry Miller

Study Director



1Member, National Academy of Engineering

2Member, National Academy of Sciences