Preparing for a Career in Sustainable Communities

Communities are complex and dynamic; they require nurturing to sustain core elements such as environmental quality, safe neighborhoods, good schools, accessible healthcare and engaged citizens. A "Sustainable Communities" approach focuses on understanding the broad systems that communities use to achieve environmental protection, social equity, and economic viability. Adopting this perspective can help local governments and nonprofits find feasible, long-term solutions to challenging problems related to the environment, equitable resource distribution and the economy.

Sustainable communities coursework is ideal for students interested in shaping their public administration careers around the concept of sustainability. The courses provide you with foundational knowledge about the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of policy choices made at the local level by leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors. Depending upon your interests, these can include basic concepts of environmental policy design, ecosystem management, energy systems and efficiency, biodiversity, environmental justice, economic development, social equity, and citizen education and engagement.

To gain advanced knowledge in the area of sustainable communities, you should complete the standard core curriculum for the Masters of Public Administration degree; take the required "Sustainable Communities: Theory and Practice" course; and take at least two sustainable communities electives. When possible, you should also focus your internship and capstone project on some aspect of sustainable communities.

The Department of Public Administration resides in the University Downtown Center (UDC), the first "green" building in downtown Binghamton. Home to our College of Community and Public Affairs, the UDC has been certified LEED Silver by the U.S. Green Building Council. Environmentally sustainable features include high-efficiency mechanical equipment, energy-efficient windows, daylight views to reduce the need for artificial lighting, and recycled building materials. The building's location downtown is one of a number of projects that marks the University's commitment to the social and economic vitality of Binghamton's urban core.

Required course

SUST 500: Sustainable Communities I: Theory and Practice
In this seminar, we will critically read and discuss the literature that frames the foundational theory and practice of sustainability across the environmental, economic, and social equity dimensions. We will examine how local governments and local organizations interact with each other and with actors at different geographic and governmental scales. Readings will include some classics of sustainability as well as important primary sources. 

Elective courses

SUST 510: Sustainable Communities II

PAFF 571: Environmental Policy Analysis

This seminar will review approaches to environmental decision making through the comparison of traditional and innovative approaches, including standards, taxes and tradable permits related to the formation of environmental and resource policy. Global as well as domestic environmental issues, environmental justice and sustainable development concerns will be discussed along with the primary policy issues affecting major U.S. environmental laws. During the course, each student will be assigned a topic or requested to select a topic for class discussion.

PAFF 582: Planning Sustainable Cities and Regions
Municipalities in the United States have enormous power to impact the local and regional environment. Through academic readings and policy documents, we will survey the history, theory, and practice of sustainable (and unsustainable) land use planning and how it has shaped our urban, suburban, and rural areas. We will learn about and challenge the various contemporary approaches to sustainable planning across environmental, economic, and social equity dimensions.

PAFF 564: Service Learning and Language Immersion in Cusco, Peru
This innovative four-week study abroad experience in Cusco, Peru explores sustainable development through an interconnection between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity, and cultural identity in the Andean Region of Latin America. Students work with Peruvian community-based nonprofit organizations to learn about the local dynamics of sustainable development.

PAFF 568: Shenzhen, China Study Abroad Opportunity
Students will study political, social and economic institutions at Shenzhen University in China during this winter intercession course. In addition to instruction in a seminar format, students will work on a project related to an issue of sustainable development related to local governments or community-based organizations in China. The students' itinerary will also include time in other major Chinese cities. Previous trips have included travel to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

ANTH 554G: Heritage and Communities
Heritage is a complex and contested domain that includes legislation to protect antiquities and cultural traditions, conceptions of local and national identities, political struggles, and crucial economic resources. Students will explore how the concept of heritage intersects with contemporary communities and how the work of heritage is carried out. The course explores the changing role of heritage in social relations across a range of global contexts including post-apartheid South Africa, the Middle East, the Northeast, and Europe.

GEOG 509: Natural Resource Conservation
In this course, students will examine the historical and contemporary context of geographic, environmental, cultural and economic factors relating to natural resource use and management. Course topics may include effective conservation of flora and fauna as well as resources such as minerals, soils, and water. We will investigate issues of global and local control, and conservation policy practice and theory.

GEOG 575: Environmental Planning and Resource Management
Students in this course will evaluate factors affecting decision making and use of environmental and natural resources, including geographic, economic, cultural and political influences. This will include an analysis of different management strategies as they affect different parts of the world.

Other classes with a clear focus in the sustainable communities issue area may be used as electives with the approval of George Homsy.

If you are interested, please contact George Homsy (


Please complete the following form if three of your electives have focused on sustainable communities:




Last Updated: 4/21/17