What are 'green cities'?

Mar 23, 2009 By E/The Environmental Magazine, Emagazine.com

Dear EarthTalk: What is the "green cities" movement? - John Moulton, Greenwich, Conn.

Best described as a loose association of cities focused on sustainability, the emerging " movement" encompasses thousands of urban areas around the world all striving to lessen their environmental impacts by reducing waste, expanding recycling, lowering emissions, increasing housing density while expanding open space, and encouraging the development of sustainable local businesses.

Perhaps the archetypal green city is Curitiba, Brazil. When architect and urban planner Jamie Lerner became mayor in 1972, he quickly closed six blocks of the city's central business district to cars, delighting residents and business owners alike. Today the pedestrian-free zone is three times larger and serves as the heart of the bustling metropolis. Lerner also put in place a high-tech bus system, greatly reducing traffic, energy usage and pollution; the move also encouraged density around transit hubs and thus preserved open space in other areas that would have likely turned into suburbia. Today the bus system still goes strong, and three-quarters of the city's 2.2 million residents rely on it every day.

Another green cities leader is Rekyjavik, Iceland, where hydrogen-powered buses ply the streets and - geothermal and hydropower - provide the city's heat and electricity. London, Copenhagen, Sydney, Barcelona, Bogota and Bangkok, not to mention Sweden's Malmo, Ecuador's Bahia de Caraquez and Uganda's Kampala, also score high for their green attributes and attitudes.

Green cities abound in North America, too. In 2005, Portland, Oregon became the first U.S. city to meet reduction goals set forth in the landmark (if ill-fated) Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement forged to mitigate the threat of global warming. Seattle, Washington also committed to meeting Kyoto's goals and has persuaded 590 other U.S. cities to do the same under the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. And Vancouver, British Columbia draws 90 percent of its power from renewable sources while its metro area boasts some 200 parks and more than 18 miles of accessible waterfront.

San Francisco is a leader in green building, energy efficiency and alternative energy, and has been on the forefront of the battle to reduce plastic usage. Austin, Texas is fast becoming a world leader in solar equipment production and has made great strides in preserving open space. Chicago has invested hundreds of millions of dollars revitalizing its parks and neighborhoods, and has built some of America's most eco-friendly downtown buildings. It is also working to provide affordable clean power to low-income families. Of course, many would argue that New York City - with its densely packed housing, reliance on mass transit and walking, and recent green policy moves by Mayor Bloomberg - may be the greenest of all.

While there is no formal green cities organization, per se, many groups have sprung up to help urban areas achieve their sustainability goals. GreenCities Events, for one, hosts conferences around the U.S. at which local experts, policymakers and business leaders share ideas for greening their region. And International Sustainable Solutions takes urban planners, developers and elected officials on tours so they can check out some of the world's greenest cities to glean first-hand what works and what can be applied back home.

___

(c) 2009, E/The Environmental Magazine
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Tourists evacuated amid Iceland volcano concerns

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

U.S. cities rated for 'sustainability'

Jun 01, 2006

SustainLane has issued its 2006 ranking of U.S. cities across 12 major "sustainability" categories, with West Coast cities taking the top spots.

'Build parks to climate proof our cities'

May 14, 2007

Scientists looking at the effect global warming will have on our major cities say a modest increase in the number of urban parks and street trees could offset decades of predicted temperature rises.

Home sets example for environmentally friendly living

Feb 27, 2009

When Larry and Lauri Kraft decided to add a great room and three-season porch to their 1959 split-level home in St. Louis Park, Minn., they chose "green" remodeling to protect their children's health.

Recommended for you

NASA image: Signs of deforestation in Brazil

11 hours ago

Multiple fires are visible in in this image of the Para and Mato Grosso states of Brazil. Many of these were most likely intentionally set in order to deforest the land. Deforestation is the removal of a ...

Sunblock poses potential hazard to sea life

12 hours ago

The sweet and salty aroma of sunscreen and seawater signals a relaxing trip to the shore. But scientists are now reporting that the idyllic beach vacation comes with an environmental hitch. When certain sunblock ...

Is falling recycling rate due to 'green fatigue'?

12 hours ago

It's been suggested that a recent fall in recycling rates is due to green fatigue, caused by the confusing number of recycling bins presented to householders for different materials. Recycling rates woul ...

Study to inform Maryland decision on "fracking"

15 hours ago

The Maryland Department of Environment and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released on August 18, 2014, a report by the University of Maryland School of Public Health, which assesses the potential ...

User comments : 0