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The World’s Greenest Cities

10 December 2010 No Comment

In a busy and a crowded world, there are some city administrators that like to go beyond the everyday troubles. Besides solving traffic problems, planning new streets and highways and creating more economic facilities to assure a city’s prosperity, there are some mayors that like to think about the quality of life. In a city suffocated by pollution, improving the quality of the life means thinking eco friendly.

There are some cities that represent an avantgarde in creating a sustainable urban settlement. Hopefully this will represent good examples to follow by all the growing cities in the world, so that in 10 years the following list would be 10 times longer.

1. Reykjavik, Iceland – clean energy sources for a clean future

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In Iceland, thinking green is a national concern. This island is considered to have some of the wildest and most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. Although the crowded cities are not a common sight in Iceland, the authorities are doing their best in keeping the carbon footprint as low as possible.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, with a population of only 200,000 people. Where the public transport is nowadays comprised of hydrogen buses, which the students can also ride for free! You will not see coal plants around the city, since the heat and the electricity in Reykjavik are produced entirely from renewable geothermal and hydropower sources.

The Government aims high in Iceland: by 2050, they want their whole country to become fossil fuels free. This means less pollution, clean air and a better life.

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2. Newcastle, UK – greens up with bees and electric cars

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Newcastle is the twentieth most populous urban area in England, but United Kingdom’s greenest city. Studies reveal that Newcastle has the best quality of life in UK and the best long-term strategy to tackle the climate change. The authorities plan to keep the city clean by attracting only clean industries in the city and through a series of eco friendly projects. These include UK’s first major electric car hub with almost 600 charging points.

The city now has numerous 20 mph speed limits, an eco friendly beach and a “no power hours” schedule at schools and in the central area. The last one involves experimenting everyday life without electricity for 60 minutes.

Another major project of the administration is the bee repopulation project. Responsible for pollination, these insects not just improve the food producing process, but the project also encourages people to create and decorate their green spaces.

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3. Malmö, Sweden – the Scandinavian approach on living environmentally responsible

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Malmö is nowadays the country’s third biggest city and a leader in modern and environmental architecture. In the last three decades the authorities struggled to redesign the urban landscape and they succeeded. Immense unused factory areas were replaced by modern residential facilities, most of them being 100% sustainable.

Malmö already has tens of low energy buildings, one of the largest off-shore wind energy parks in Europe and 1250 sq meters of solar cells that provide clean energy for its inhabitants.

Mobility is also green in Malmö: 410 km of bike paths spread around the city and the public transport buses are using biogas, extracted from food waste. Malmö aims to become the first climate neutral city in the world by 2020 and by 2030 its energy sources will be 100% renewable.

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4. Vancouver, Canada – a centenary plan for a greener future

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Named “world’s most livable city” by The Economist, this Canadian city has 560,000 people and is the first city in the world with an impressive 100 year plan for green living. Vancouver is already diverting 55% of the regional solid waste and by 2020; the city administration plans to reduce the waste it produces by 40%.

To improve the air’s quality, 200 parks with 1.6 million trees animate the city’s landscape. In just ten years, every resident in Vancouver will live within a five minute walk of a natural space.

The municipality and the corporations run an integrated program to reduce the carbon emissions even since 1996. This involves lowering the carbon footprint of each business in the city and developing new energy efficient buildings. Vancouver has also advanced on implementing emerging technologies, such as solar powered trash compactors.

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5. Copenhagen, Denmark – the bike city sets a trend in Europe

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This is the capital city of a country considered to be one of the most eco friendly states in the world. Denmark was among the first countries in the world to found a Ministry of Environment and to implement an environment law, in 1973. Obviously, nowadays Copenhagen is one of the foremost European cities in promoting and implementing an environmental responsible public lifestyle. The capital of Denmark is also considered to be the organic capital of the world, since one in every ten products sold here are organic.

A public bicycle rental system and 100 km of bicycle lanes allow 36% of all the residents to pedal more than 1.1 million km daily. Among other sources, Copenhagen is supplied by an off-shore wind farm and it is the first Scandinavian city to enforce a “green roof” policy. This requires all roofs with a slope under 30 degrees to be “equipped” with soil and vegetation.

Copenhagen aspires to become a carbon neutral city by 2025; judging by the all the progress made in the last years, this seems like a fair and achievable objective.

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6. Barcelona, Spain – the sunniest example of a green city

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In sunny Barcelona, the Olympic Games of 2004 started an ample urban regeneration period for the beautiful Spanish metropolis. The local administration is thinking now in terms of “green” and “sustainable” when creating a new development strategy. That is why nowadays more than 360,000 trees are lining up Barcelona’s streets, along with hundreds of buildings equipped with solar cells.

From 2000 onwards, every building that was restored or constructed had to have solar energy sources to heat at least 60% of their hot water. Moreover, the city management is encouraging strolling around the center by creating tens of kilometers of car free streets. The most famous pedestrian zone in Barca continues to be La Rambla, which is 1.2 km long.

The city benefits from 2,800 hours of sunshine per year, therefore in the near future it will continue to heavily invest in solar plants. It is clear that making Barcelona one of the greenest cities in Europe is not an idea, but a clear objective for the local authorities.

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7. Austin, Texas, U.S.A. – planning green and living better

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In 2007, the City Council of Austin decided to fight against climate change. Therefore, they set the basis for the “Austin Climate Protection Program”. This general plan has five main directions for action. First of all, the municipality intends to have all its facilities, vehicles and operation carbon neutral by the year 2020.

The carbon emissions from the existing power plants will be capped and new investments in energy sources will be made only in carbon-neutral facilities. The new structures in Austin will be built after a new construction code that will make them the most energy efficient buildings in the United States. Moreover, the local authorities are providing adequate equipment to the local communities and business so they could measure and lower their carbon footprint.

Since the start of the program, there are 2,500 house owners per year that agreed to install renewable energy systems on their homes. 53% of the administrative facilities are already powered by green energy sources. Due to its amazing progress, the city of Austin was awarded with the “National Climate Protection Award” in 2009.

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8. Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. – America’s most sustainable city

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Sustainability in Portland is a concept that dictated the urban development for decades. This city in Oregon with 500,000 inhabitants is a model for all the American municipalities, due to its good management of outdoor spaces.

Thirty years ago, when the infrastructure projects were booming in the United States, the municipality of Portland decided to demolish a six-lane highway to develop a riverside park instead. Nowadays, there are more than 92,000 acres of green space within the limits of the city and 119 trails of biking, hiking and running trails. Half of the energy sources used in Portland are renewable and the city signed a pact to protect 25 million acres of forest and farms located nearby.

Portland has often been awarded the “Greenest City in America” and is considered one of the most sustainable cities in the world. The Grist magazine even ranked Portland as the second greenest city in the world, after Reykjavik, Iceland.

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9. Curitiba, Brazil – leading the urban green development in South America

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Rational development and green planning – this is why this lovely city in southern Brazil is famous worldwide. Curitiba was one of the first cities in the world to advertise itself as “green”, in the 1980s. The changes begun in 1970s, when the mayor at that time, Jaime Lerner decided to build parks instead of concrete canals, to reduce flooding.

40 years ago, the downtown area of Curitiba was closed for cars and the Bus Rapid Transit was invented. The BRT works like a light rail commute system; only it is used by the buses. The inhabitants received bus tokens if they recycled their waste and a series of recycling educational program was initiated with the children.

What are the results of such early initiatives? Although the population tripled in 20 years, the car traffic decreased by 30%. Curitiba now has the biggest recycling rate in the world – 70% and the largest downtown pedestrian shopping area on the planet. 400 sq km of parks green up the city’s sights and the 1.7 million residents are encouraged to keep the streets clean and to recycle by receiving food in exchange for their waste.

For almost half a century now, Curitiba is thinking green and that strategy helped the city flourish and the economy grow. That’s why in 1970s the average income per person in Curitiba was lower than the Brazilian average and nowadays it is 66% greater than the Brazilian average.

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10. Vienna, Austria – the city of Mozart, good life and green spaces

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In the last decade, numerous magazines and associations ranked Vienna as the city with the best quality of life in the whole world. An important role in achieving this might be the fact that half of the metropolitan area of Vienna is comprised of green spaces. 280 imperial parks freshen up the Viennese air and attract thousands of visitors on sunny days. The local administration started an ambitious climate protection program in 1999, which was updated this year.

In 10 years, the carbon emissions were reduced by 14% (compared to the levels of 1990) by using methods of district heating, thermal rehabilitation of buildings and promoting and encouraging an environmental responsible lifestyle. These measures also included creating a bike rental network in the capital of Austria, with more than 60 rental stations spreading around the city, open all day long.

In addition, Europe’s largest biomass power plant was opened near Vienna in 2006 as part of a great plan of rethinking Vienna’s technological approach.

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