More and more people are interested in living a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle. They want to eat organic, local foods, recycle to the greatest extent possible, get energy from clean, renewable carbon neutral sources, enjoy clean air and water, and have access to nature. Surprisingly, there are many cities in the United States where both the municipal government and residents work tirelessly to make an environmentally friendly lifestyle possible in an urban setting. Below are the top five American cities, listed in reverse order, that spare no effort to protect our planet and promote a natural, healthy way of living.
Many people are surprised to find Chicago on a list of environmentally friendly cities, but Chicago’s government has pursued ecologically sound policies for decades. Chicago has over 7,300 acres of parks and is constantly planting more trees. The city also led the way in promoting green roofs including planting a rooftop garden on city hall. Chicago also has a plan in place to make the city the most bike-friendly city in America with a goal of reducing bicycle injuries by by 50 percent by 2015. More than 114 miles of bike lanes have been established, 10,00 bicycle racks have been installed and 50 miles of bike trails have been built. Chicago also has a large farmers’ market as well as numerous smaller neighborhood markets.
Boston is often called the “Walking City.” The city has numerous attractions within walking distance of downtown. City government launched an initiative called Boston Bikes to make Boston a world-class city for bicycling. Over 1,500 bike parking spaces have been added in just the last three years and the city has large network of bike lanes and trails. There are three green convention centers in or near the city, 29 green-certified restaurants in the city, and 28 green-certified hotels and other facilities. Boston also requires that all taxis in the city must be hybrid vehicles by 2015. Boston is spearheading a project to convert leaf litter and brush from trees and bushes into green fertilizer and biofuel. For those interested in fresh, local produce and humanely farmed meat products, there are about 125 farmers’ markets in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 30 of which are open year round.
3. San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the most environmentally committed cities on Earth. The city’s government has led the way in promoting ecology, green policies, and environmentally friendly measures. The city was the first in the country to ban the use of plastic grocery bags. San Francisco has robust municipal programs to promote environmental justice, pursue zero net waste, reduce toxins, promote energy conservation and renewable energy, improve air and water quality, mandate green building practices, encourage the production and sale of eco-products and create natural plant and animal rich parks and green spaces. To assist the mayor and city council, the city maintains an Environment Commission, a Biodiesel Task Force, a Clean Technology committee, a Green Building Task Force, a Peak Oil Task Force and an Urban Forestry Council among other groups and committees. San Francisco also has an extensive public transportation system and a large and growing population of bikers.
Seattle is often called the “Emerald City” because of its many innovative green policies. The city signed the Kyoto Protocol and has an aggressive Climate Action Plan. The mayor was the first in America to approve the US Mayors Climate Protection Act. The city’s municipal power generation facilities are carbon neutral, the first city in the nation to achieve this goal. Seattle actively promotes solar and renewable energy projects. The city’s green building plan is robust and continues to grow. Seattle is aggressively promoting biking, walking and public transit while also vigorously encouraging the use of electric vehicles and working to make Seattle “plug-in ready.” City council has passed legislation to encourage urban agriculture and neighborhood farmers’ markets. Seattle’s recycling compliance is among the best in the nation, and the city is pursuing a zero waste strategy. Seattle’s water policy is focused on maintaining the excellent quality water supply and keeping local water sources clean in order to promote tree growth.
1. Portland, Oregon
Portland has free streetcar and light train service in the downtown area to discourage car use. More people bike to work in Portland than any other city in the country. The city has more than 315 miles of bike paths and lanes. Traffic lights have been adjusted to save more than 1.75 million gallons of gasoline each year. Portland has followed a master growth plan for decades that ensures that the city remains compact and near farms and natural woodlands and wetlands. Portland’s citizens have access to 92,000 acres of trails and parks. About 29 percent of Portland is a waterfront park that was formerly a freeway running through the city. The city ranks in the top ten for most green-certified buildings in North America. Portland’s Climate Action Plan calls for the city to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Half of the city’s energy comes from renewable resources. Several convention centers and a sports arena have received green certification. Portland recycles and composts at one of the highest rates in the nation. The city has 35 community gardens and about 20 farmers’ markets. Portland ranks at or near the top of many lists measuring environmentally friendly factors.
If you want to live in an eco-friendly city, there are many places to choose from in this country. Even better, other cities throughout America are emulating the five cities above and using many of their successful programs as models for their own communities. If we want to protect our environment for ourselves and our children, the entire country will have to adopt these green strategies. As more people pursue a green lifestyle, the more our political leaders will feel the pressure to preserve our planet.