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Green Cities in the World

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Each day we make important decisions that affect the health and well-being of people everywhere. Whether that’s to recycle a water bottle or eat organic, small changes help to positively impact our world. While our personal decisions are an important contribution to the future, individual actions alone are not enough. It is imperative that we work together with businesses, social organizations, and government agencies and representatives to ensure that we can make the largest impact possible in protecting our planet. In order to understand what works best, we’ve scoured the globe for cities that are models for the global community. These ten destinations help move our world closer to a more sustainable future and should give those in doubt hope that going green and reducing our carbon footprint is not only possible, but also advantageous. From redefining the urban landscape with Copenhagen’s bike lanes and pocket parks to the innovative use of natural resources like Reykjavik’s geothermal energy, these ten cities are an important example of what can be done, and needs to be done.

Copenhagen is widely considered one of the greenest capitals in the world. Chosen as the host of the Global Summit on Climate Change, the city served as a model for the 170 countries that attended. By 2015, the city hopes to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% and by 2025, it aims to be the world’s first CO2 neutral capital. Policies in place have already helped the city move closer to this goal. Copenhagen has invested heavily in clean-energy technology. Once based on coal and oil, the city is now run almost entirely on natural gas. Denmark is also home to 5,600 windmills that supply around 10% of the country’s electricity. The world’s largest offshore windmill park is located in Copenhagen and powers 32,000 homes, which is around 3% of the city’s energy.
The average Dane is also ecologically responsible. It is estimated that each resident produces about half the CO2 of the average American. A majority of city residents (55%) bike to work on the city’s 300 KM of bike lanes. Busses also leave almost no ecological footprint as they are all run on battery power. Organic foods play a big role in a Copenhagener’s day—51% of food consumed in the city’s public institutions is organic. When residents throw things away, they can rest assured that even their waste won’t harm the environment as 75% of all household garbage is incinerated and used for heating and electricity. Once where sewage and wastewater were collected, the city’s harbor is now considered one of the world’s cleanest. It is so unpolluted that it’s used for swimming and recreation. The city is also increasing green spaces—14 parks, which include 3,000 new trees, will be added by 2015.
—Joseph Pedro

Starting in the 1960s, using a tiny budget and lots of creativity, the people in charge of running this Brazilian city began to turn it into a model of urban planning and sustainability. Curitiba faces similar problems that plague cities all around the world, including poverty, pollution, overcrowding, and limited public funding. According to Tim Gnatek of PBS’s Frontline, “What's unique about Curitiba is that the city invested in an extensive bus system that operates for less than a tenth of what a subway costs to operate; developed recycling programs that clean up the environment and also address poverty; and attracted new industry while expanding green spaces.”
As a result of their forward thinking and desire to provide jobs and green space for the residents of this city of more than three million, Curitiba is considered one of the most important examples of what government can and should do with taxpayers’ money. The city planners wanted to alleviate the traffic congestion that contributed to long commutes and terrible air pollution, so they revamped their bus system that now serves 85% of the people every day. To reduce the amount of trash being thrown out and ending up in the environment, Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, instituted some remarkable programs. According to The Guardian: “Recycling in Curitiba is perhaps the most radical reform of all. In 1989, residents in a nearby favela were dumping their trash in surrounding rivers and fields, as there were no collections from their narrow streets. Lerner arranged for a truck to visit the favela at fixed times each week, and residents’ rubbish was exchanged for bus tickets, football tickets, and shows. Soon, the locals were cleaning the rivers and fields of old rubbish to sell. Schoolchildren were given new plastic toys for old bottles and bags in a scheme called ‘Garbage that's not garbage.’ Under this program, 70% of the city’s trash is recycled every week.”
Today, because of the innovative planning that took place over 40 years ago, the residents of Curitiba take pride in their city and enjoy a standard of living that is one of the highest in all of Brazil. In looking toward the future, this Brazilian city hopes to provide more green jobs by continuing to find ways to improve the environment and the quality of life for its citizens.
—Robert Sandberg

For years, Freiburg has been known as “Green City” because of its long history as a rallying point for the environmental movement. Over thirty years ago, a successful campaign against a proposed nuclear power plant nearby resulted in one of the first big victories of the green alternative movement in Germany.
Since then, Freiburg has continued to remain a staunch advocate for alternative energy and green jobs. In 1986, the city council voted to abandon nuclear power. In 1992, Freiburg was chosen as Germany’s “Environmental Capital,” and the city was one of the first in the country to establish an Environmental Protection Office. Freiburg’s preference for environment-friendly forms of transport with a focus on traffic avoidance and easily accessible city centers earned it the European Local Public Transport Award.
Today, the scenic German city, nestled amid gorgeous views of the Black Forest and Rhine River, continues to carry the torch of environmental stewardship. One of the most notable aspects of contemporary Freiburg is its plethora of solar panels on top of buildings as diverse as local churches, schools, and even City Hall. The Badenova Stadium, home to the city’s soccer team, is also a notable tourist draw, being the only stadium in the world to have its own solar power plant.
In addition to Freiburg’s impressive cultivation of solar energy, the city also has plans to reduce their CO2 emissions 40% by 2030.
—Will Pulos

Once a major manufacturing center for Sweden, Malmö was forced to turn over a new leaf and reinvent itself when the country’s industrial era ended. With innovative ideas and a collective appreciation for the environment, Malmö is widely recognized as one of the greenest and most sustainable cities in the world. Residents are famous for their love of biking. Huge numbers of locals use their bikes to get to work or school. The 260 miles of pathways meander through gorgeous coastal scenery as well as through the well-manicured cityscape. The area known as Western Harbor is entirely powered by locally produced and renewable energy. It also utilizes vacuum waste chutes so the area’s streets are free of garbage trucks. Many of the buildings have green roofs to both keep temperatures cooler in the summer and increase biodiversity. Augustenborgs Botanical Roof Garden is a series of roof gardens that are connected by footpaths. Altogether, the series of roof parks equals 100,000 square feet. “Green points” have been set up to further beautify the city and offset CO2 emissions.
The tallest building in Scandinavia and one of the tallest residential towers in Europe, the Turning Torso, is energy self-sufficient. Harvesting power from the sun, wind, bedrock, and water, the building uses one hundred percent renewable energy. City residents also don’t feel too bad about throwing out waste because it’s compacted and then turned into biogas, which is used to help run the busses.
Malmö has been dubbed Sweden’s first Fair-Trade city because of its extensive offering of Fair-Trade products from coffee to fashion. In addition, a majority of the ­eateries and markets are considered organic. With so many advancements already, the city hopes to be climate neutral by 2020.
—Joseph Pedro

In one of the most diverse areas in the world, Victoria, Australia is home to deserts, rainforests, wetlands, volcanoes, coastline, and various waterways. It is no surprise then that this city must maintain a delicate balance with its surrounding nature. After being named one of the world’s most livable cities, the Melbourne City Council began to work on ways to further their standing. They began a six-goal plan to achieve zero-net emissions by 2020. From strict green building codes and better city planning to larger educational programs, the city is well on its way.
With a low population density, it’s important that the city’s public transportation system is sustainable. Just one example is Melbourne’s airport shuttle, which is Australia’s first carbon-neutral public transportation operator. With each ride, you also support Greenfleet, an organization that helps offset carbon emissions by planting trees around Australia. Trying not to waste the area’s naturally heavy rainfalls, the city has constructed man-made wetlands. The wetlands effectively rid the water of nitrogen and other pollutants, providing a healthy supply of water to the city.
Green buildings are also key to the city’s environmental efforts. The Melbourne Convention Center is considered the greenest convention center in the world. From the locally sourced food that is prepared to the filtering of the convention center’s waste water, this meeting place is a model for sustainability. It was the first building to earn a “Six-Star, Green-Star” environmental rating, an honor that is even harder to receive than the US’ Platinum LEED Certification. With acres of unused rooftops, both the private and public sectors have been working together to create green roofs. Melbourne is currently home to the world’s first fully funded, competition-designed, retrofitted, green roof.
—Joseph Pedro

On a recent episode of the new IFC show Portlandia, a sketch show that gently skewers Portland’s leftist culture, a couple sits down for dinner at a local restaurant. After ordering a chicken off the menu from a local farm, they request to see its papers, learn its family history, and then decide to visit the lands it grazed on before deciding whether or not to purchase it.
Though the residents of the real Portland might not be quite so extreme, their reputation for being incredibly receptive to green and sustainable initiatives is well deserved. The city government currently has a number of interesting programs that it runs through its Bureau of Environmental Services that keep the city clean and green. The MAX light rail transportation system and the city’s extensive bicycling lanes also provide Portland with effective green transportation options.
The Portland Brownfield Program takes previously contaminated spaces and transforms them into vital and thriving lands for development. Through financial and technical support, the program transforms areas such as large industrial sites and former gas stations into land that can be reused for the future. In 2006, Portland launched its first solar energy program. The campaign, Solar Now! provides advice and assistance for Oregonians planning on converting their home or business to solar energy.
Another program that is positively transforming the lands of Portland is the Watershed Revegetation Program. This initiative forms partnerships with public and private landowners and works to restore degraded stream banks and improve water quality of local rivers. In addition, the WRP works to restore native plants and wildlife that have been lost due to erosion and pollution.
With these ongoing government initiatives, 35 community gardens, and numerous education programs, Portland is definitely embracing its green reputation. If you’re not convinced, you can find out for yourself with one of the ongoing, and completely free GreenWalks that the city offers through gardens, parks, and natural areas around town.
—Will Pulos


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Very interesting post - thanks a lot! I found something similar on the new Siemens website: Siemens Sustainable Cities. Siemens have published a worldwide survey called The Green City Index. It also includes America & Asia!
- , Ohio, USA

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