Smart(ish) Cities: On unexpected urban progress
Hear the phrase “smart growth” or “green city,” and chances are you’ll think of one place: Portland, Ore. That progressive pocket of the Northwest has become synonymous with sustainability, landing atop many a list and capturing more than a few hearts and minds along the way. Not far behind, other stars of the Northwest and Northeast vie for the top spot — places like Seattle, Vancouver, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. All have made great strides toward making life cleaner and greener for their residents — and all are, as one planner put it recently, the “honor students” of urban sustainability.
So what about the C students?
We dedicate this series to them. To cities that have faced more than their share of problems, that have been written off because they’ve fallen prey to sprawl, or post-industrial depression, or a general lack of glamour. These are places you won’t see in a Top 10 list of green cities anytime soon — but it doesn’t mean they’re not trying. Over the course of this week, we’ll take a look at unexpected progress happening in unexpected places. Places like Phoenix, Cleveland, and Atlanta.
Don’t scoff. These cities, and others like them, are discovering that if they do their homework and stay awake in class, they might just ensure themselves a brighter future.
At the very least, they’ll expand their role in the nationwide — and, indeed, global — effort to reduce the major impact that cities have on climate change. To top it off, better planning and innovative solutions not only means fewer emissions, it means a healthier, more satisfying life for the people who call these cities home.
Stay tuned as we explore the following topics:
Day One: Smart(ish) Cities
- What’s a Sustainable City, Anyway? SustainLane CEO James Elsen explains
- How Smart Is Your City: An urban-dweller’s pop quiz (Sorry, the quiz you are seeking no longer exists. If you’re in a voting mood, suggest a quiz and you might just see it on the site.)
- Urban Index: Cities, climate, and smart growth by the numbers
Day Two: The Southwest
- Hope for a Desert Delinquent: Can desert-devouring Phoenix save itself?
- Dry, Dry Again: How three more Southwest cities are changing
Day Three: The Southeast
- Outer Limits: Despite drought and sprawl, Atlanta may have a prayer
- A Moment in the Sun: How three more Southeast cities are changing
Day Four: The Midwest
- Those About to Rock: Cleveland emerges from the doldrums
- Shinier, Happier People: How three more Rust Belt cities are changing
Day Five: Going Forward
- Your Cities, Yourselves: Tips for greening your own city
- Urban Legends: The series concludes, sustainability efforts march on
Stories in this series:
With a chart-topping 26,000 people per square mile, New York City has to be smart.Photo: Tom TwiggBack in 2004, the news emerged that two-thirds of the world’s population might be living in cities by 2030. At SustainLane, we got curious about what cities were doing to handle that growth, and we began taking a closer look into the sustainability initiatives taking hold: Which cities were planning for the future, and which were painfully unprepared? It turned out there were no clear criteria out there to answer our questions. So we put together a team of writers, researchers, peer reviewers, editors, …
Less than 1: Percent of the earth’s surface covered by cities (1) 75: Percent of global energy consumed by cities (2) 80: Percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions contributed by cities (1) 6.7 billion: World population in 2007 (3) 50: Percent of world population expected to live in urban areas by the end of 2008 (3) 70: Percent of world population expected to live in urban areas by 2050 (3) 840: Mayors who have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (4) 50: States from which those signatories hail (4) 80 million: Citizens those signatories represent (4) 3: Actions those signatories …
Can Phoenix remake its desert-gobbling ways?In order for Phoenix to truly be a green city, it would have to be brown. Or not brown, exactly, but the sandy shade of the mountains that surround it: the jagged peaks and parched hills that enclose the Valley of the Sun. These days, though, Phoenix is a less-natural shade of brown; a ring of smoggy pollution known locally as the Brown Cloud shadows the city. And that’s not the only affront to the environs here. Anyone flying in can see the patches of fierce green lawns that paint the landscape, along with the …
For more on Southwest cities see our full feature on sustainability initiatives underway in Phoenix. Scan any list of “green U.S. cities” for winners from the Southwest, and you’ll find a geographical void. Sure, a liberal-leaning place like Austin or Santa Fe or Boulder might sneak onto the list, but in general, there’s a dearth of entries from this sun-drenched region. And that’s troubling, as Southwest cities tend to be among the country’s fastest-growing — and thus in direst need of careful future planning. While it’s true that this hot corner of the country has traditionally been cool to sustainability …
For more on Southeast cities, see our full feature on sustainability initiatives underway in Atlanta. With rapid population growth and increased climate vulnerability, the Southeastern U.S. would seem a prime place for sustainability initiatives. But the area has been slow to cotton on to the greening trend. We chalk it up to the South’s shade-shifting toward red in the last fifty years — aligning with a party that was, until recently, less amenable to environmentalism — and to its rural roots: Conservation issues can seem less dire when you’ve got more cornfields than subdivisions. These days, though, Sun Belt cities …
The City in the Forest hopes to get back to its roots.Despite its reputation as a city of wall-to-wall subdivisions, office complexes, and shopping centers, Atlanta’s not a complete stranger to matters of green. At the time of its mid-19th century founding, in the woods at the end of a railroad line, it was called the “City in the Forest.” And in the early 20th century, the city created the 185-acre Piedmont Park in Midtown (currently ballooning to add another 50 acres). Since then, of course, the Atlanta of urban planning lore has descended: traffic-choked, overdeveloped, polluted, with a major …
Still known for smokestacks and football, Cleveland is turning its ship around.Photo: Craig Hatfield“Most people know Cleveland by the Browns or The Flats,” says Marc Lefkowitz. From the roof of his office building, which is dotted with native wildflowers and grasses, he gestures to the downtown skyline — marked by the iconic Mittal Steel smokestacks that gave The Flats neighborhood its name — and toward the beloved football team’s stadium along the shimmering shores of Lake Erie. That two-pronged version of the city’s reputation may be wishful thinking on the part of Lefkowitz, web editor for a local green nonprofit …
For more on Rust Belt cities, see our full feature on sustainability initiatives underway in Cleveland. It may not be intuitive to link an area historically associated with steel mills, coal mining, and automobile assembly lines to sustainable development. But green growth is catching on in the Rust Belt, long an economically unendowed area of the country — and its manufacturing-heavy past is coming in handy in emerging fields like biotech, nanotech, and hydrogen cars. Here’s what three cities are doing to green up their acts. A new Destiny emerges in Syracuse. Image: destinyusa.com Syracuse, N.Y. In late 2007, Syracuse …
By now, you may have forgotten that Portland was ever crowned the Miss Universe of Sustainability, and have started packing up your bicycles and solar panels for the big move to Syracuse or Tampa. OK, maybe you’re not thinking of uprooting yourself and your family. More likely, you’re evaluating your own city to figure out what green things it’s got going for it, where it lags behind, and how you can make a difference where you live. Who knew affordable housing was a key to sustainability, or that vehicle-miles traveled matters as much as the number of smog particles lingering …
This week we’ve profiled several cities that are changing the way their residents live, work, and get around — all with an eye toward fighting climate change and building a more sustainable future. So what can you do if your community hasn’t seen the light? We asked our sources for advice, and here’s what they had to say. Kimber Lanning. “Buy local whenever possible. Whether you’re hiring someone to work on your air conditioner, buying dog food, or buying produce, buy it from your neighbor whenever you can. If you think it’s more expensive, think about a city with nothing …