This article can be found in the current issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs regarding Activist Scholarship.
Sustainability backfire: The unintended consequences of failing to engage neighborhood residents in policymaking, by George C. Homsy & Siobhan Hart
Urban planners, community activists, and public archeologists, among others, recognize the importance of engaging residents and their knowledge in developing policies and programs. However, sustainability is typically treated as a top-down challenge. In this article, we demonstrate that sustainability policies might break down or backfire when officials fail to directly involve residents, particularly disenfranchised residents. This conclusion emerges from qualitative research through a neighborhood organizing project in Binghamton, New York. We use a citywide pay-as-you-throw trash policy and a public park design process to illustrate that sustainability was not achieved by widely touted best practices implemented on a municipalitywide basis. The lack of broad inclusivity and participation by disenfranchised residents at the neighborhood level meant that officials missed important knowledge and perspectives, which undercut the effectiveness of sustainability efforts. Sustainability citizenship requires that residents have the space and means to organize and participate—something that local governments should create.