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Where to Build? Cities Taking Steps Toward Preserving and Enhancing Their Quality of Life

Written by Peter L. Mosca on Tuesday, 14 October 2008 7:00 pm
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While we all believe in and tend to the laws of the red, white and blue, America's 50 biggest cities are thinking green, according to the definitive ranking of city sustainability released by sustainlane.com, the largest online community dedicated to healthy, sustainable living. The 2008 SustainLane U.S. City Rankings, topped by Portland, Oregon, reveal which cities are increasingly self-sufficient, prepared for the unexpected and taking steps toward preserving and enhancing their quality of life.

"The SustainLane U.S. City Rankings speak, first and foremost, to the local leadership found across America and how mayors, city councils and their offices of sustainability are preparing their cities for resource deficits due to high gas and energy prices, drought, rising food prices and other issues," says SustainLane Media CEO James Elsen. "It has been proven that good, strong local leadership can directly improve residents' quality of life. During an election year especially, it's important that Americans applaud the steps taken in their municipalities while asking for even bolder forward steps to improve their communities."

Based on 16 economic, environmental and green/clean tech categories, the SustainLane U.S. City Rankings factor in each city's ability to maintain healthy air, drinking water, parks and public transit systems, as well as a robust, sustainable local economy with green building, farmers markets, renewable energy and alternative fuels. The 2008 City Ranking "Mega-Trends" include:

More Bicycling: There are 12.3% more cyclists across the US year-over-year (2004-2005 per U.S. City Rankings data). The cities racing ahead: Portland, NYC, Oakland, D.C., Minneapolis, and Columbus.

Revitalizing downtowns: Cities across the country like Columbus, Oakland and Philadelphia are livening up downtowns and creating areas with high density, mixed use space, infill redevelopment and transit. This marks a "Back to the Future" historic shift from suburbs back to cities.

Trains making a comeback: New light rail and other public transit infrastructure investments lead to more dense, energy efficient and livable cities. Phoenix, Charlotte, N.C., Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, NYC, Detroit (announced 7/08), Houston, Albuquerque, Denver, Dallas and Austin are paving the way.

Mainstreaming of green movement: More city governments are getting up to speed on high level sustainability officer appointments, climate change plans, adaptation studies, biodiesel, green building and more. Houston, Atlanta and Columbus are among those on the move.

Alternative/Renewable Energy: Wind and solar energy production and energy conservation are priorities in Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Houston, Austin and Sacramento, and are being looked at as possibilities across nearly every city interviewed.

More Neighborhood/Community Groups: Citizens are joining together to solve problems caused by rising fuel prices (300% price increase over the last five years) and climate change. The result: community gardens, creating livable spaces, anaerobic digesters, etc. are found in Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit.

"We're beginning to see the top- and bottom-ranked cities move farther apart, with the cities taking sustainability seriously increasing in desirability nationwide and enjoying better odds of long-term economic prosperity," said Elsen. "Specifically, the top 15 cities are creating more vibrant city centers and offer higher quality air, water, food and transportation choices that yield smaller carbon footprints per resident than those at the bottom of the list. We predict that the lower-ranking cities will increasingly struggle to sustain their resident and business populations and local economies."

Hot new designability and sustainability trends include:

Green Building: LEED and other green rating programs in places like Boston, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, NYC and San Francisco are expanding to every type of built environment, some controversial: parking lots, airports, zoos, museums and others. ? Forestation of Cities: Planting trees to increase urban canopies on streets or as part of green roofs decreases urban heat, cleans up air and water, sequesters CO2 emissions, raises property values and improves quality of life. You'll find this in Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, NYC, Tulsa and Atlanta. ? Re-use of Rail Infrastructure: Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and San Diego are taking old rail lines and installing light rails and/or green belts (recreational paths, parks). ? Preparing for Climate Change: Planning for sea level rise, "climate refugees," less snowpack and water supply issues and more is occurring in Austin, Chicago, NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Portland.

Waste is Good: Boston moving composting indoors to take advantage of gas is the perfect example of city use of anaerobic digesters, landfill methane gas.

Car-Free Streets on Weekends: Hit the road in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and NYC, and enjoy car-free space to walk, run, and bicycle and take part in community activities.

[Editor's Note: SustainLane Media is the largest and fastest growing media network for companies, individuals and families interested in healthy, more sustainable living. For the detailed report, city best practices and sustainability tools, go to sustainlane.com.]

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