2012 Sustainable Cities Methodology

A list of 38 specific policies and programs was assembled from analysis of what cities around America have been doing to try to become more sustainable (see below). Each of the 54 largest U.S. cities, plus Pittsburgh, Penn., was assessed to see which of these programs it has adopted and implemented. Cities received one point for each adopted/implemented program. The total number of points received determines a city’s final ranking. City websites and web-based materials, as well as recently conducted surveys of local officials, were used to confirm that programs were indeed being implemented. Assessment of changes in sustainability programs is especially challenging because cities rarely explicitly eliminate previously adopted programs. Instead, they may opt to de-emphasize, modify or de-fund them without any announcement. For the period between 2011 and 2012 we were unable to identify any sustainability-related program in any city that had been repealed or canceled.

Project lead: Jeremy Runnalls

Researcher: Kent E. Portney is a professor of political science at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

The City Policies, Programs and Activities assessed in the Rankings:

Smart Growth Activities

1. Eco-industrial park development

2. Targeted or cluster economic development

3. Eco-village (urban infill housing) project or program

4. Brownfield redevelopment (project or pilot project)

Land-Use Planning Programs, Policies and Zoning

5. Zoning used to delineate environmentally sensitive growth areas

6. Comprehensive land-use plan that includes environmental issues

7. Tax incentives for environmentally friendly development (other than energy efficiency counted elsewhere)

Transportation Planning Programs and Policies

8. Operation or sponsorship of public transit (buses and/or trains)

9. Limits on downtown parking spaces

10. Car pool lanes on city streets (high occupancy vehicle or diamond lanes)

11. Alternatively fueled city vehicle (green fleet) program

12. Bicycle ridership program

Pollution Prevention, Reduction and Remediation

13. Household solid waste recycling

14. Industrial recycling

15. Hazardous waste recycling

16. Air pollution reduction program (e.g., reduction in volatile organic compounds)

17. Recycled product purchasing by city government

18. Superfund (non-brownfield) site remediation

19. Asbestos abatement program

20. Lead paint abatement program

21. Pesticide reduction program

22. Urban garden/sustainable food system or agriculture program

23. Heat island mitigation program (other than green roofs)

Energy and Resource Conservation/Efficiency

24. Green building program

25. Green affordable/low income housing program

26. Renewable energy use by city government

27. Energy conservation/efficiency incentives or rebate program (other than green building program)

28. Alternative energy offered to consumers (solar, wind, biogas, etc.)

29. Water conservation program

Sustainable Indicators Project

30. Sustainable indicators project active in last five years

31. Indicators progress report in last five years

32. Does indicators project include “action plan” for policies/programs?


33. Single government agency, office or person responsible for implementing sustainability programs

34. Sustainability an explicit part of a citywide comprehensive or general plan

35. Involvement of county government or metropolitan council

36. Involvement of mayor or chief executive officer

37. Involvement of business community (e.g., chamber of commerce, sustainable business organization)

38. General public involvement (public hearings, visioning process, neighborhood groups or associations, etc.)

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