Calling a city "green"--make that calling anything "green" these days, can conjure up a slew of ambiguities. Part of this is due to how cliché and overused the term "green" is. Everything from socks to fuel to garbage bags is given the ascription these days. What exactly makes a particular item green? It surely isn't just a matter of color and the EPA has yet come up with a definitive explanation.
The criteria used by MNN to determine the top ten "green" cities:
- air and water quality, efficient recycling and management of waste,
- percentage of LEED-certified buildings,
- acres of land devoted to green space,
- use of renewable energy sources,
- and easy access to products and services that make green lifestyle choices (organic products, buying local, clean transportation methods) easy.
Bearing this in mind, here are the top ten in reverse order:
10. Austin, Texas
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Austin Energy is the nation's largest provider of renewable energy, which makes its goal to power the city solely on renewable energy within reach. Acreage in Austin that's devoted to green space includes 206 parks, 12 preserves, 26 greenbelts and more than 50 miles of trails.
In 1909 (that's right, 1909), pioneering city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham created a long-range plan that balanced urban growth, and created a permanent greenbelt around the metropolitan area. Today, through the Chicago Green Roof Program, more than 2.5 million square feet of city roofs support plant life - including the Sears Tower - and the city hall building.
More than 20 public buildings in Seattle are LEED-certified or under construction for LEED certification. Through an incentive program, residents are encouraged to install solar panels on their homes for energy conservation.
7. Berkeley, Calif.
A great place to find an abundance of organic and vegetarian restaurants is also on the cutting edge of sustainability. Berkeley is recognized as a leader in the incubation of clean technology for wind power, solar power, biofuels and hydropower.
6. Cambridge, Mass.
In 2002, city officials implemented a major climate protection plan and today most city vehicles are fueled by B20 biodiesel or electricity. All new construction or major renovations must meet LEED standards. And a project called "Compost that Stuff" collects and processes organic waste from residents, restaurants, bars and hotels. Thoreau's Walden Pond can be found in nearby Concord.
5. Eugene, Ore.
In 2008, after only one year of service, The Emerald Express, a hybrid public transit system, won a Sustainable Transport Award. Cycling is the preferred mode of transportation, made possible by the 30 miles of off-street bike paths and 29 dedicated bike routes, which total a whopping 150 miles of smog-free travel throughout the metro area.
4. Oakland, Calif.
Residents of this port city have access to an abundance of fresh, organic food, much of which is locally sourced. It's also home to the nation's cleanest tap water, hydrogen-powered public transit and the country's oldest wildlife refuge. Oakland also plans to have zero waste and be oil-independent by 2020, and already gets 17 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
Sustainability efforts include a "Green by 2015" goal to replace traditional taxi cabs with hybrid vehicles, recycle trash to power homes, use more solar panels and use more electric motorbikes for transportation. The city's first annual Down2Earth conference was held in 2008. It's designed to educate residents about how to live the most sustainable lifestyle.
2. San Francisco
In addition to peace, love and solar power, there's also an innovative recycling program with an artist-in-residence at the recycling facility. The artist uses his work to inspire residents to recycle and conserve. San Francisco is also the first U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags, a concept that supports its effort to divert 75 percent of landfill waste by 2010.
And the winner is...
1. Portland, Ore.
Declared the most bikeable city in the United States for its 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes, Portland certainly makes forgoing gas-powered travel easy. And for lessons in DIY sustainable food sources, classes are available for container gardening and cheese making, or beekeeping and chicken-keeping.
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