The idea of a sustainable city—one where both the city and its residents do their part in maintaining a green environment—may seem like a pipe dream, but there are cities right here in the U.S. that are making that dream a reality. When examining cities in the nation based on transportation, waste management, quality of the environment, urban sprawl and alternative energy sources, these locales offer sustainable havens for individuals looking to lead green lifestyles.
To gain a better understanding of what makes a city environmentally conscious, there are several factors that need to be taken into account:
- Waste Management: Waste management refers to directing waste away from disposal and toward different means of recyclability or "looping." With the space available for landfills diminishing and the sheer volume of garbage created by individuals, finding ways to cut back on waste has become a priority for cities focused on green living.
- Transportation: It is assumed that a city's available commuting options will effect it citizens' transportation decisions, and therefore, lifestyle choices. The evaluation of the number of workers who bike, carpool, walk or take public transportation help determine the "greenness" of a city.
- Air Quality: Likewise, the evaluation of the effects of a city's pollution levels on its residents' health determines the quality of environment. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) daily Air Quality Index offers a good idea of a location's environment quality as it gauges ozone levels, as well as the levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide in the air; these all can have detrimental effects on human health. A moderate score in the EPA's Air Quality Index is less than 100. The scores rise as air quality diminishes.
- Population: Additionally, the degree of urban sprawl can be used to evaluate sustainability in that high housing density equates to higher need for transportation and greater use of resources. So the number of residential buildings that house tenants in the double digits offers insight into the utilization and depreciation of a city's resources.
- Energy: The sources of energy used to power individuals' homes can also be very telling of a city's sustainability. The use of wood- and coal-based forms of energy in homes and businesses are considered to have a negative impact on a location's environmental soundness due to its harmful emissions. Solar energy is considered cleaner and more sustainable, so the number of buildings using each can be used to calculate the overall effects of energy sources on a city.
With all of these factors considered, which U.S. locations provide the highest degrees of sustainability and green lifestyles? Here are four cities that are making strides.
- Burlington, Vermont stands out due to several unique programs to support sustainability, such as a communal compost facility where grocery stores, food suppliers and restaurants bring their biodegradable food scraps, and where landscapers and residents drop off the leaves and clippings from their yards. When the compost is ready, the rich soil is sold to farmers and gardeners in the area.
- Honolulu, Hawaii is first in the nation in the category of air quality, as the sunny Pacific climate has led to many residents and businesses employing solar energy. The city was awarded the EPA's highest classification on the Air Quality Index in 2014 with a rating of 27.
- New York, New York ranks surprisingly high on the list of greenest cities in the U.S. When considering the Big Apple's efficient subway system and expansive public transportation options, it is no surprise that more than 50% of the city's commuters opt for public transportation. NYC also boasts a comprehensive recycling plan. The opportunities for green living draw many to the city, and its boroughs host varying services. If you're scouting for apartments to rent in NYC, be sure to look at the eco-friendly opportunities each has to offer.
- San Francisco, California, given the city's long history of environmentalism, was a natural contender for the list of greenest cities. The Bay Area ranks high in many categories. The number of homes that are solar-dependent doubles the national average of only seven in every 10,000, and one tenth of San Francisco commuters opt to hike to work.