College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

Public Service Management


sustainability, sustainable planning, nonprofits, municipal planning, sustainable city


Municipal governments across the United States have been integrating sustainability into their planning and economic development strategies for more than a decade. Despite this, forging a consensus on exactly what a “sustainable city” is—or how communities can pursue sustainability in financially and politically viable ways—has proven difficult. Over the past several years, however, many governments have strengthened their initiatives by harnessing the capacity of nonprofit organizations to serve as administrators of their sustainability plans. The roles of nonprofits vary between cities but often include information gathering and designing and developing plans, while the task of implementing these plans is managed by the municipal governments. This study explores this promising and emerging technique against the backdrop of theories of collaboration and cross-sector coordination and their practical application. Through an intensive case-study approach that involved interviews with key staff members in four U.S. communities, including Akron, Ohio; Elgin, Illinois; Fairfield, Iowa and ; Oak Park/River Forest, Illinois it explores these partnerships and the practical lessons that these pioneers in nonprofit-municipal collaboration suggest for other communities. The findings also illustrate the value of collaborative theory in understanding how nonprofits and municipalities can work together in the design and development of community sustainability plans. Interpreted broadly, such results can help deepen scholarly understanding of the potential value of intersectoral strategic planning initiatives among different entities.