About 18 months ago, I stood in a crowded, nondescript courtroom in lower Manhattan, raised my right hand, pledged my allegiance to the United States, and officially became an American citizen. The ceremony was the culmination of a two-year application process marked by bundles of paperwork and numerous visits to immigration offices that, in terms of design and architecture, were the pits: little to no daylight, harsh fluorescent lighting, fading paint, uncomfortable chairs, and stale air. They certainly were a far cry from the new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center in Orlando, Fla., an airy, light-filled, LEED Gold-certified space designed by Leo A Daly.

I’d like to think the drab spaces I encountered on my path to citizenship are becoming the exception and that well-designed, efficient, and environmentally responsible government facilities are on their way to becoming the norm. There’s certainly ample opportunity for that to be the case, with a federal building portfolio that accounts for more than 354 million square feet of space nationwide, and a presidential administration that is actively championing the green movement. And groundwork already has been laid to promote sustainability and energy efficiency in both civic spaces and facilities as well as privately owned structures. A recent report from the USGBC found that the current administration has the ability to use more than 30 existing federal programs worth $72 billion to enhance efficiency in commercial buildings and multifamily housing, with no new legislation needed.

Federal support for green building initiatives and legislation and a comprehensive national policy is key in the long run, but the biggest areas of immediate opportunity may lie at the municipal level. For one example, look at Discovery Green in downtown Houston (“Gray to Green”), where the city transformed a swath of parking lots into a vibrant public space. And consider Seattle, where the city owns more than 1,000 buildings, and manages 2.5 million square feet of parking and yard space as well as 215 million square feet of green and open space. Given these figures, it’s easy to see why it was big news in 2000 when Seattle became the first U.S. municipality to formally adopt the USGBC’s LEED standards as part of its sustainable building policy. Ten years after this decision, our Perspective column (“Taking the Lead”) checks in with Lucia Athens, the former manager of the City of Seattle Green Building Program.

Now a senior sustainable futures strategist for CollinsWoerman, Athens also is the author of the recently released book, Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies and Programs, and her feedback this issue is twofold. In our Perspective column, she discusses potential collaboration between designers and public sector officials. Online at eco-structure.com, you’ll find “Green Horizons for Savvy Cities,” which offers a few of Athens’ thoughts on the process of greening midsize and large cities.

It’s one thing to integrate green practices into building codes and regulations, and another for government entities to walk the walk by making their own facilities environmentally responsible. But true market transformation and wide-spread adoption of sustainability requires more than legislation. It demands a shift in perspective that broadens the scope of focus from individual structures to larger developments. Along these lines comes LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND), which was officially launched at the end of April. While it is the seventh LEED rating system, it is the first to address sustainable design and development on a neighborhood scale.

Working on this scale requires a good set of people skills. The number of stakeholders is large, as is the potential for confusion or failure. As an architect or designer, are you prepared to mitigate any concerns that may derail your sustainable pursuits? For some advice on how to convince community members, civic leaders, and other players to go green, eco-structure.com has another Web-exclusive essay (“Green Persuasion”) from two Emeryville, Calif.–based architects: Larry Strain, principal of Siegel & Strain Architects, and Jim Goring, principal of Goring & Straja Architects. And for other examples of total community buy-in, look no further than our Deep Green column (“Scaling Up”), where Ralph DiNola, principal at Green Building Services, and Rob Bennett, executive director of the Portland Sustainability Institute, explore the rise of eco-districts.

For the past few decades thinking big meant designing for Costco-sized lifestyles: big cars, big homes, big box stores, and often, a big waste of space, materials, and energy. As you’ll see in this issue, however, thinking big now means thinking strategically about how the concepts of sustainable design such as smaller carbon footprints, minimal site disturbance, and a reduction in waste and energy consumption can be applied on a larger scale.

In other (big) news, Eco-Structure’s parent company, Hanley Wood, recently announced a five-year integrated media partnership with the AIA. As part of this agreement, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2011, Eco-Structure’s sister publication, ARCHITECT, will become the official magazine of the AIA and, we’re excited to announce, eco-structure will become an associated publication of the AIA. Through the agreement, we’ll continue to help the architecture profession push sustainable practices to the next level.