There was controversy when American President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Yet, over a year on, a high number of American cities are still pushing hard to become as “green” as possible. From transitioning to renewable energy sources to making public transport as carbon-free as possible, American cities are searching far and wide for new and inventive ways to cut down their carbon footprint and become the greenest urban centre around.
What’s more, with almost 90% of the population thought to be living in urban areas by 2050, the US is slowly becoming a nation of city-dwellers. With this in mind, there’s more incentive than ever for cities to become as climate-friendly as possible.
There have been numerous studies done in recent years to find out how American cities have been performing, and typically, Californian cities such as San Diego and San Francisco are ranked the greenest. However, there are a growing number of cities that have overhauled their energy infrastructure in recent years and are now up there among some of the “greenest”. We give you… America's Greenest Cities!
Nicknamed “America’s Finest City”, San Diego lived up to its chipper title in late 2018 when it was named America’s greenest city by Wallet Hub, the online credit advisor. The researchers behind the study said, “Cities across the U.S. have increased their sustainability efforts and benefited economically”. San Diego came out on top after being ranked on the following dimensions: environment, transport, energy sources and lifestyle and policy.
Only narrowly beating Californian neighbours San Francisco, San Diego has received plenty of plaudits for its climate-friendly developments. The city has been voted California’s Solar City a number of times and is thought to have more solar installations than any other Californian city. San Diego is home to Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban park, and the city’s airport has been awarded the LEED Gold Certification.
Northern California’s biggest cultural and commercial centre, San Francisco is well-known for its staunch eco-friendly outlook. Frisco has been hailed as one of the country’s greenest cities for years and it has led the way in national environmental reform.
Bounded by a host of national parks and green spaces, the city also benefits from dry summers and strong gales. However, San Francisco’s real reforms lie in the city’s waste management – it was the first US city to mandate composting and recycling for residents. Pollution is generally considered low in the city and its transport infrastructure is also admired.
Denver hasn’t always been a place that springs to mind when thinking about America’s greenest cities, but, in recent years, the city has made big strides toward lowering its carbon footprint. City officials have encouraged the use of electric vehicles and alternative fuel sources and America’s Mile-High City also has a brilliant park system that comprises 240 urban parks.
Being surrounded by impressive mountain ranges and lush pine forests certainly don’t hinder the city’s green status, but that’s only one element of Denver’s recent surge. Researchers at the University of Colorado found a way to reuse fly ash, a by-product of coal-burning power plants, and created a new concrete mix that reduces the amount of sulphur and carbon emitted in the process. This has now become a lucrative industry in itself and the mayor of Denver also made the new concrete a requirement for all future city projects.
In a 2016 census, it was discovered that around 17,000 people in America’s capital commuted to work via bicycle. This impressive feat has been engendered by the city’s numerous eco-friendly initiatives and schemes. Capital Bikeshare – a bicycle sharing system that began in 2010 – provides D.C. locals with a straightforward alternative to other forms of transport.
Lacking the abundance of solar energy generated by many west-coast cities, Washington, D.C. was ranked particularly highly in Wallet Hub's lifestyle and policy category. Early in the 21st-century, the city is thought to have added about 23 million square feet of LEED-certified green building space. This new approach to urban construction affected both new projects and existing buildings. Now, a model city for the pioneering of green construction, Washington, D.C. maintains a level of prestige for its eco-friendly urban regeneration.
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests, it’s easy to see why Seattle is always ranked highly on greenest city lists. Awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating in mid-2014, Seattle received plaudits for improvements in sustainability. One of these improvements came in the form of a carbon-neutral electric utility. An initiative that’s been 18 years in the making, Seattle City Light uses hydroelectric resources for the majority of the power it provides – meaning the city’s greenhouse gas emissions are extremely low.
Much like Denver, Seattle is dotted with a high number of parks, meaning the city is blanketed in green spaces. The Pacific Northwest city has a number of other renewable energy initiatives on the go. Improvements have recently been made in wind, landfill methane and wood biomass energy.
Widely known for its vibrant, creative culture and hip atmosphere, Portland is also one of the most eco-friendly cities in the country’s Pacific Northwest region. Ever since the early ‘60s, Portland has garnered a reputation for being a countercultural capital of progressive values – that cultural bearing has led in part to the city’s positive environmental outlook.
Back in 1971, Oregon became the first state to legislate refundable deposits on bottles and cans, this is purported to have evolved into the common initiative of recycling. Portland is also a city that encourages cycling and offers more than 300 miles worth of bike lanes.
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