News Release

Improving the sustainability of US cities - new report

Peer-Reviewed Publication

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

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 A committee roster follows.


Riya V. Anandwala, Media Officer
Rebecca Ray, Media Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail

Copies of Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at 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

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