Joan Fitzgerald, urban planner, pro­fessor, and director of the Law, Policy and Society pro­gram in Northeastern’s Col­lege of Arts and Sci­ences, recently authored “Emerald Cities: Urban Sus­tain­ability and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment.” The book extols the value of going green to drive eco­nomic growth in our cities. In this Q&A, Fitzgerald offers her per­spec­tive on best prac­tices, exam­ples of what cities can accom­plish, and direc­tion on poli­cies that are needed for a post-​​fossil fuel economy.

As we cel­e­brate the 40th anniver­sary of Earth Day, what do you see as the future of the sus­tain­ability move­ment? Are there issues on the horizon that we should we be working to combat now?
I think of the sus­tain­ability and cli­mate change agenda together. There are many prob­lems that we need to address. The most urgent is reducing oil con­sump­tion — this is crit­ical for reducing green­house gas emis­sions, reducing other pol­lu­tion asso­ci­ated with oil use, and increasing our energy security.

For cities, that means reducing vehicle miles trav­eled — get­ting people out of their cars and walking, biking or using public trans­porta­tion. Energy effi­ciency is another area where we need to move more quickly than we have been — we can do this with existing tech­nolo­gies. And we need to be devel­oping the clean tech­nolo­gies for the future. That will take a much bigger fed­eral com­mit­ment than we have made so far.

Most people under­stand the con­cept of sus­tain­ability and green cities and sup­port these ini­tia­tives in theory. What are the eco­nomic ben­e­fits for com­mu­ni­ties embracing green tech­nolo­gies and ideas?
This is the sub­ject of my book — there are so many eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties for cities focusing on sus­tain­ability and reducing green­house gases. A lot of people have heard about Chicago’s green roofs — as a result, a number of new com­pa­nies that spe­cialize in green roof con­struc­tion have started up, pro­viding new jobs.

Like­wise, Port­land, Ore., and Seattle are leaders in green building. Sev­eral of their archi­tec­ture firms spe­cialize in green building and con­sult all over the world. Toledo, Ohio, is building on its strength in auto glass pro­duc­tion to build thin-​​film solar panels. Cleve­land hopes to build wind tur­bines that can be used on Lake Erie. The Pitts­burgh and Syra­cuse, N.Y., regions are trans­forming building supply indus­tries into green building suppliers.

You have studied urban com­mu­ni­ties across the country. What are your favorite green cities?
My top green city is Los Angeles. It is a city that has a long way to go and is moving on every front —it has the nation’s largest building effi­ciency ini­tia­tive, a plan to make solar energy a major part of the city’s energy supply, has a recy­cling rate that is close to 70 per­cent, has cleaned up its port and is building a major public trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture. LA is moving on every front.

Port­land is another one — the city has devel­oped a street car and light rail system that has cre­ated a lot of eco­nomic devel­op­ment in the areas served by it, it is a leader in bicycle com­muting and green building and is devel­oping a renew­able energy industry.

What national and state poli­cies will work best to encourage a green economy?
We have to stop sub­si­dizing the indus­tries that con­tribute most to green­house gases and increase invest­ment in renew­able energy and other clean tech­nolo­gies. The energy bill has to put a price on carbon and imple­ment a strong port­folio stan­dard for increasing the amount of energy we get from renew­able sources. The trans­porta­tion bill has to focus more on public trans­porta­tion and less on highways.