Every person makes a difference and all we need is for everyone to do their part. However the baseline for sustainability, for hundreds of thousands of people, is created through the green practices of their cities. But what determines how green a city is?
Different surveys consider different elements. The list for a fully comprehensive assessment could be endless if we consider all the parts and systems that run a city.
The first and most easily quantifiable indicator is the air and water pollution levels, often measured by air and water quality. A fundamental to assess whether any of the measures taken have translated into actual, good, green news. If sanitation, sewage system and water networks are built with the correct, non-corrosive materials there is no danger of sewage leakage or contamination of the water supply.
Engineering a green environment is not just to do with the underground systems that keep the city ticking over, but the above ground buildings and schools that provide the amenities. Regulations on private estates and businesses are also important to ensure that certain standards are met with the building materials and methods employed.
Public transport infrastructure either helps or hinders the green rating of a city. If railway links aren’t fast and to the desired destinations they won’t be used, they have to offer some benefit for the traveler who could otherwise be enjoying the quiet comfort of his/her own vehicle. Are there congestion charges and other traffic management systems in place? Bus and cycle lanes offer an incentive for people to get on their bike to save money and time whilst improve their fitness.
As more cities and towns learn how to adapt to use their resources more wisely, the amount of cities considered “green” are expected to grow. Pressure from citizens to incorporate ‘sustainable’ policies and work with their local governments is one way to get the ball rolling more quickly.
The charts vary but the top 10 often feature some or most of the following: San Francisco, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Boston, Oakland, Eugene, Cambridge, Berkeley, Seattle and Chicago.
As a general trend wealth correlates with the level of environmentally friendliness because they can afford the resources for better projects, infrastructure and the relevant expertise to monitor environmental legislation and progress. Yet some of the most meaningful community development initiatives such as community gardens or time banks come from areas where financial resources are minimal. Going green doesn’t depend on money, its about the will of the citizens and community to organize.
Waste management, recycling facilities or collection. Is it made easy for the citizens to recycle? Penalties for excess waste could help in the reduction. More frequent collections for recycling could increase the mass diverted away from landfills to recycling plants.
Not so surprisingly Las Vegas isn’t very high on the green cities lists. Electricity consumption would be one of Vegas’ downfalls but what about production? In Chicago Excelon brings light by capturing solar energy on the biggest urban solar plant in the U.S. cutting 14,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
For a green environment you need to leave some space for the greenery. New York is leading the way on a project to plant one million trees in the city. An ambitious goal which also involves the care of the trees, of which over 430,000 have been planted since 2007.
There are many elements that make a city green. The cities mentioned in this article have taken positive action for improving their environments and reducing their environmental impact, making the world a better place.
Green Cities report by Living Cities