Dear EarthTalk: What
is the “green cities” movement? —John Moulton,
Best described as a loose association of cities focused on
sustainability, the emerging “green cities 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
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 renewable energy sources—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 Bahía
de Caráquez 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 carbon dioxide 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.
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.