The sustainable city represents an ideal of good and just living that has inspired urban development work for at least 25 years. While criticized by many for its scientific, social and political vagueness, the concept of the sustainable city has nonetheless continued to frame material and political efforts in urban redevelopment. From a perspective grounded in the pragmatic sociology of critique, this article takes this phenomenon as evidence of an international movement to generate not just political pronouncements or technical fixes, but a new order of worth, from the concept of the sustainable city. After presenting the pragmatic sociology of critique and the application of this body of social research as it pertains to better understanding sustainable urban development, we reflect on the factors that challenge the acceptance of the sustainable city as an order of worth, or as a mode and manner of justifying significant decisions in the public domain, recognizable and understandable to a majority. For efforts to create the sustainable city to justify themselves, socioculturally, in this way, the work demands a clear test of worthiness. This article illustrates the search for an adequate test through a review of two distinct efforts to generate new systems of assessment for sustainable building projects, and points out the contrasting nature of these two tests: one which aims to be accessible to thoroughgoing public debate fit to transform a context toward a political discourse of urban sustainability as well-being; the other that interprets the need for a test as affirmation of expertise related to the unfolding climate emergency.
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