Green Streets Where great ideas are transforming urban life by Jennifer Hattam
CITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY once competed to build the tallest highrises, but now they seek other bragging rights: San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio, both claim to be working on the nation's largest green building. The mayors of Austin, Chicago, and Los Angeles have each thrown down the gauntlet, declaring their city will be the most environmentally friendly. But success takes more than a showcase building or ambitious plans. A truly green city integrates environmental sustainability into everything from its sidewalks to its skyscrapers. Its public transportation is affordable and extensive, its streets safe and pleasant for bikers and walkers. It invests in renewables and energy efficiency, protects open space, reduces waste, and provides clean air and water and access to healthy food for residents of all economic classes.
The cities we highlight here are not "ecotopias," for none exist--yet. But they are helping lead the way to a brighter, greener future. In addition to their individual achievements, most have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, vowing to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012--the goal of the 163 countries that have joined the Kyoto accord on global warming. Led by Seattle mayor Greg Nickels (D), some 230 cities have made the pledge. If they succeed, the results would be as beneficial as those expected from Kyoto commitments made by the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and all Scandinavian countries combined. Through its "Cool Cities" campaign, the Sierra Club is working to make sure the signatory cities follow through on their promises--and get others to join their ranks.
The road to sustainability is not always smooth, as author Heather Millar found when she went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to track its progress. (See "Charlotte's Way.") But it can be rewarding. As the example of Portland, Oregon, shows, being greener saves money, attracts businesses, and improves residents' quality of life. These benefits can provide a boost to economically struggling cities--and a counterpoint to sprawl nationwide. By making life in our cities more appealing, we keep the natural world outside them greener too.