Sustainable Communities

Mazmanian Was Well Ahead of the Curve

By Anna Cearley

Dan Mazmanian

More than a decade ago, when sustainability issues were still a specialized curiosity, USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development professor Daniel Mazmanian turned his attention to the emergence of locally-based environmental policies in several communities and regions across the nation.

Now that sustainability has hit mainstream, Mazmanian and his colleague Michal Kraft of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay have updated their original 1999 book – Toward Sustainable Communities: Transition and Transformations in Environmental Policy (MIT Press) – to illustrate in more detail the impact of community-based environmental policy.

Some of the new chapters in the book, edited by Mazmanian and Kraft with contributions from 13 other authors, are “Blueprint Planning in California,” “Sustainability in American Cities,” “Collaborative Watershed Partnerships” and “Climate Change and Multilevel Governance.”

“What was once a relatively limited, somewhat fringe idea has since evolved to dominate the conversations not only on college and university campuses but in government, business and throughout society today,” Mazmanian said.

Sustainability issues include everything from what you eat and wear to climate change and exploring how development impacts the environment. The topic raises the larger question of how individuals and communities can act responsibly to create a greater environmental equilibrium for ourselves and future generations.

Mazmanian, who holds the USC Bedrosian Chair in Governance, said that until recently sustainability issues had not been widely reflected in national public policy.

Over the past 10 years, however, sustainability strategies have emerged on the local and state levels in places such as California and municipalities such as Seattle and Portland, and they have rapidly expanded on college and university campuses. “While the federal government has been slow to respond to the possibilities of sustainability, we have seen a vibrant movement at the local and state level that is now providing models for even more wide-scale adoption,” Mazmanian said.

The book retains some updated chapters that provide the analytical framework for understanding how sustainability fits into the evolution of environmental policy, starting with the rise of federal regulations in the 1970s through the contemporary period. In addition to sections written by Mazmanian and Kraft, the book includes contributions from 13 other authors.

Two of the new themes are:

  • “Blueprint Planning in California.” How regional planning agencies within the state of California have become innovators in strategic planning for growth, called “blueprint” planning. The strategy is based on coordinating transportation, investment, air quality and land use plans with local governments.
  • “Sustainability in American Cities.” An overview of how municipalities have incorporated sustainability policies. The cities of Seattle and Portland, for example, have promoted programs to reduce energy consumption and encourage sustainable-friendly zoning. In these cases, citizen involvement and participation has been critical in modeling sustainability projects.

Interest in sustainability issues also has grown in the classroom. Universities such as USC have been creating new academic programs around sustainability issues in reaction to industry changes as well as input from students.

Mazmanian taught a new graduate level course last fall at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development on environmental governance and sustainability, and he will teach two sustainability-related classes in the 2009-10 academic school year.