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<< Back to: ICLEI e-News | issue 9, August - September 2007

The 15 Greenest Cities

Grist Newswire Service (U.S.A.) has selected the 15 cities that they have determined deserve recognition for making impressive strides towards eco-friendliness, and helping the many millions of residents live better, greener lives. While all of the selected cities appear below, only those that are ICLEI Members are profiled in detail.  
  1. Reykjavik (Iceland)
Reykjavik has been putting hydrogen buses on its streets, and, like the rest of the country, its heat and electricity come entirely from renewable geothermal and hydropower sources.  Furthermore, it is determined to become fossil-free by 2050.  They mayor has pledged to make Reykjavik the cleanest city in Europe.  
  1. Portland (Oregon, U.S.A.)
The City of Roses’ approach to urban planning and outdoor spaces has often earned it a spot on lists of the greenest places to live.  Portland is the first U.S. city to enact a comprehensive plan to reduce CO2 emissions and has aggressively pushed green building initiatives.  It also runs a comprehensive system of light rail, buses, and bike lanes to help keep cars off the roads, and it boasts 37.23 hectares (92,000 acres) of green space and more than 119 kilometres (74 miles) of hiking, running, and biking trails.  
  1. Curitiba (Brazil)
With citizens riding a bus system hailed as one of the world’s best and with municipal parks benefiting from the work of a flock of 30 lawn-trimming sheep, this mid-sized Brazilian city has become a model for other metropolises.  About three-quarters of its residents rely on public transport, and the city boasts over .0054 hectares (580 square feet) of green space per inhabitant.  As a result, according to one survey, 99 percent of Curitibans are happy with their hometown.  
  1. Malmö (Sweden)
Known for its extensive parks and green space, Sweden’s third-largest city is a model of sustainable urban development.  With the goal of making Malmö an eco-city (ekostaden), several neighbourhoods have already been transformed using innovative design and are planning to become more socially, environmentally, and economically responsive.  
  1. Vancouver (Canada)
Its dramatic perch between mountains and sea makes Vancouver a natural draw for nature lovers, and its green accomplishments are noteworthy.  Drawing 90 percent of its power from renewable sources, British Columbia’s biggest city has been a leader in hydroelectric power and is now charting a course to use wind, solar, wave, and tidal energy to significantly reduce fossil-fuel use.  The metro area boasts 200 parks and over 29 kilometers (18 miles) of waterfront, and has developed a forward-thinking 100-year plan for sustainability.  
  1. Copenhagen (Denmark)
With a big offshore wind farm just beyond its coastline and a large percentage of the population on bikes, Copenhagen is a green dream.  The city christened a new metro system in 2000 to make public transit more efficient.  It recently won the European Environmental Management Award for cleaning up public waterways and implementing holistic long-term environmental planning.   
  1. London (U.K.)
When Mayor Ken Livingstone unveiled London’s Climate Change Action Plan in February, it was just the latest step in his mission to make his city the world’s greenest.  Under the plan, London will switch 25 percent of its power to locally generated, more-efficient sources, cut CO2 emissions by 60 percent within the next 20 years, and offer incentives to residents who improve the energy efficiency of their homes.  The city has also set stff taxes on personal transportation to limit congestion in the central city, hitting SUVs heavily and letting electric vehicles and hybrids off scot-free.  
  1. San Francisco (California, U.S.A.)
Nearly half of all ‘Friscans take public transit, walk, or bike each day, and over 17 percent of the city is devoted to parks and green space.  Sna Francisco has also been a leader in green building, with more than 70 projects registered under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification system.  In 2001, San Francisco voters approved a $US 100 million bond initiative to finance solar panels, energy efficiency, and wind turbines for public facilities.  The city has also banned non-recyclable plastic bags and plastic kids’ toys laced with questionable chemicals.  
  1. Bahía de Caráquez (Ecuador)
  1. Sydney (Australia)
The Land Down Under was the first to put the squeeze on inefficient, old-school light bulbs, but Sydney-dwellers took things a step further in March, hosting a city-wide one-hour blackout to raise awareness about global warming.  Add to that their quest for carbon neutrality, innovative food-waste disposal program, and the new Green Square.  
  1. Barcelona (Spain)
Hailed for its pedestrian-friendliness (37 percent of all trips are taken on foot), promotion of solar energy and innovative parking strategies, Barcelona is creating a new vision for the future of Europe.  City leaders’ urban-regeneration plan also includes poverty reduction and investment in neglected areas, demonstrating a holistic view of sustainability.  
  1. Bogota (Colombia)
  1. Bangkok (Thailand)
Once known for smokestacks and smog, Bangkok has big plans for a brighter future.  City Governor Apirak Kosayodhin recenty announced a five-year green strategy, which includes efforts to recycle citizens’ used cooking oil to make biodiesel, reduce global-warming emissions from vehicles, and make city buildings more efficient.  Bangkok has also made notable progress in tackling air pollution over the past decade.  Though the city’s pollution levels are still higher than some of its big-city Asian counterparts, its progress thus far is impressive.  
  1. Kampala (Uganda)
This capital city is overcoming the challenges faced by many urban areas in developing countries.  Originally built on seven hills, Kampala takes pride in its lush surroundings, but it is also plagued by big-city ills of poverty and pollution.  Faced with the ‘problem’ of residents farming within city limits, the city passed a set of bylaws supporting urban agriculture that revolutionized not only the local food system, but also the national one, inspiring the Ugandan government to adopt an urban-ag policy of its own.  With plans to remove commuter taxis from the streets, establish a traffic-congestion fee, and introduce a comprehensive bus service, Kampala is on its way to becoming a cleaner, safer, more sustainable place to live.  
  1. Austin (Texas, U.S.A.)
Austin is poised to become the number one solar manufacturing center in the U.S., and its hometown utility, Austin Energy, is strongly supporting the notion of using power from the sun.  The city is on its way to meeting 20 percent of its electricity needs through the use of renewables and efficiency by 2020.  Austin also devotes 15 percent of its land to parks and other open spaces, boasts 52 kilometres (32 miles) of bike trails, and has an ambitious smart-growth initiative.   Runners up are:
  1. Chicago (Illinois, U.S.A.)
Mayor Richard M. Daley is striving to make his hometown ‘the greenest city in America’.  There’s lots of literal greenery:  under his leadership, Chicago has planted 500,000 new trees, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the revitalization of parks and neighbourhoods, and added more than 1.86 hectares (2 million square feet) of rooftop gardens, more than all other U.S. cities combined.  And there’s plenty of metaphorical greening too:  Chicago has built some of the most eco-friendly municipal buildings in the country, been a pioneer in municipal renewable-energy standards, provided incentives for homeowners to be more energy efficient, and helped low-income families get solar power.  
  1. Freiburg (Germany)
Home to the famously car-free Vauban neighbourhood and a number of eco-transit innovations, Freiburg is a tourist destination with a green soul.  The city has also long embraced solar power.  
  1. Seattle (Washington, U.S.A.)
Mayor Greg Nickels has committed his city to meeting the emission-reduction goals of the Kyoto climate treaty, and inspired more than 590 other U.S. mayors to do the same.  True to its name, the Emerald City is also planting trees, building green, and benefiting from biodiesel and hybrid buses.  
  1. Quebec City (Canada)
  If you feel other cities deserve to be listed, Grist is eager to hear your rationale.  Please contact them at www.grist.org/news/maindish/2007/07/19/cities/index.html.   Source: “15 Green Cities”, Grist Newswire Magazine, 19 July 2007.