Amazing Green Cities

While it's debatable whether Oz's Emerald City meets the criteria for being an amazing "green" city, many real cities around the world make the grade on lists compiled annually by experts. Model cities are ranked by a combination of criteria. These include urban planning and environmental statistics. They encompass energy sources, consumption and emissions, as well as transportation options and ­habits. Most lists also make note of green living (such as the availability of public parks, green jobs and sustainable buildings) and green perspective (such as recycling).

It's uniquely challenging for urban areas to be green. They have a high volume of people, traffic congestion, trash and air pollution to name just a few obstacles. Seventy-five percent of the world's energy is consumed by the world's cities . Green cities have to strike a balance of managing their current needs without compromising the city's (and environment's) fu­ture.

In the 1990s, industrialized countries around the world joined together to make progress against global warming and climate change. Together they drafted and approved the Kyoto Protocol. The agreement aims to reduce the effects of climate change through the reduction of six recognized greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

Nations that have joined the pact since it was adopted in 1997 agree and are legally bound to the goal of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5 percent below their reported 1990 levels by the period of 2008 to 2012 . Some methods for meeting the reduced emissions levels include the adoption of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, sustainable agricultural practices and the promotion of energy efficiency.

In this article, we'll look at five amazing cities known around the world not only for their adoption of green practices but also for their green innovation and leadership

Malmo, Sweden 

Malmö is home to about 280,000 people, making it the third largest city in Sweden. It lies in the Southern province of Skane and is composed of canals, beaches, parks, harbor and blocks that still retain the look and feel of the Middle Ages. But it's not the Middle Age aesthetic that lands it on this list. Rather, it's Malmö's innovative use of renewable resources and its goal to become a leading eco-city.

Sweden is a leader in green electricity solutions -- most of the country's electricity comes from nuclear and hydropower. Cities such as Malmö are contributing to the greening of Sweden with plans to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent between 2008 and 2012, far exceeding the 5 percent goal set by the Kyoto Protocol.

To help meet this aggressive target, neighborhoods across Malmö are transforming into sustainable, eco-friendly enclaves; of particular note are the areas of Western Harbour, Sege Park and Augustenborg.

Western Harbour, a former shipyard now densely urban, runs on 100-percent renewable energy from sun, wind and hydropower, as well as biofuels generated from organic waste. Its buildings are constructed with sustainable materials and designed to be energy efficient, and its streets are pedestrian and cycle friendly -- 40 percent of commuters and 30 percent of all travelers go by bike
Additionally, the restoration of the area of Sege Park, another eco-friendly transformation, will power the neighborhood with green energy sources including photovoltaics (solar electricity), wind power and biofuels.

Augustenborg, a district that's been going green over the past decade, is known for its green roofing -- botanical roof gardens that reduce runoff and add insulation and vegetation to an urban neighborhood. Augustenborg is also home to the world's first emissions-free electric street trains, as well as more than a dozen recycling houses processing about 70 percent of collected waste

Copenhagen, Denmark

The 1.7 million people living in Copenhagen are known for eschewing cars for bikes or the metro system, but green transportation is only part of the city's eco-friendly urban plan. In 2006, Copenhagen won the European Environmental Award for its clean waterways and leadership in environmental planning. What led to its prestige? Water and windmills.

The city is lauded for its efforts over the last 10 years to keep its harbor waters safe and clean. Officials invested in a water quality warning system to monitor pollution levels.

Additionally, Copenhagen is famous for its windmills. More than 5,600 windmills supply 10 percent of Denmark's electricity; and in 2001, Copenhagen opened the world's largest offshore windmill park. The new park is able to power about 32,000 homes in the city, supplying about 3 percent of the city's energy needs

What is "Green" Space?

"Going green" can mean literally just that -- turning your community green with foliage. And green space is exactly what it sounds like: It's the amount of open space reserved for plants and trees, gardens, parks and nature preserves. Green space improves air quality, cuts pollution levels and energy costs, and adds to the aesthetic of the city.

Some cities are finding innovative ways to include green space in their urban landscape. In 2000, the city of Chicago planted a garden in place of the black tar roofing on a city government building. Green roofing offers similar benefits to gardens and parks at ground level by helping to reduce urban heat islands. Green rooftops also add a layer of insulation to the building, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, reducing the building's energy costs.

Portland, Ore.

Portland lies on the banks of the Willamette River in the Pacific Northwest and is home to more than 500,000 people. It’s been a model of sustainable living for decades, smartly mixing urban and outdoor spaces.

Its greenness is hardly new. Since its 1903 "Report to the Portland Park Board," Portland has been inspiring cities across the United States and the world to embrace green space in their urban planning. Thirty years ago, Portland continued leading the way by demolishing a six-lane highway to develop a waterfront park in its place. Today Portland has roughly 92,000 acres of green space, including 74 miles (119 km) of biking, hiking and running trails, and has enacted an urban-growth boundary to contain the urban landscape and protect 25 million acres of forest and farms.

Portland was the first city in the United States to enact a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and was a founding member of the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. It has also held rank at the top of green city lists in the United States and in the world for several years.The city has 50 buildings that meet or exceed U.S. Green Building Council standards for sustainability, and its mix of commercial and residential areas is pedestrian and bike friendly -- roughly one quarter of commuters bike to work.

Looking ahead, Portland has set ambitious energy goals. By 2010, the city plans to supply 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources, including innovative approaches such as solar-powered parking meters.

Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver is a coastal city, home to more than 560,000 people, and was named the world’s most livable city by the Economist magazine. It’s proved to be not only the most livable, but also Canada’s model for using renewable energy sources.

Vancouver has an ambitious 100-year plan for clean and green living. The city already leads the world in hydroelectric energy, which currently makes up 90 percent of its power supply. It also plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to levels 20 percent lower than reported in 1990 during the formation of the Kyoto Protocol. Fossil fuels will be reduced with city investments in wind, solar, wave and tidal energy systems.

Additionally as part of its energy-efficient plans, Vancouver hasn't been shy with implementing emerging technologies. Solar-powered trash compactors have sprung up around the city, each the size equivalent to a normal trashcan but able to hold five times the waste (which puts fewer emissions-spewing garbage trucks on the roads).

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the smallest amazing green city on our list, with only about 115,000 people living in the city and roughly 300,000 people in the entire country of Iceland. But its impact on the world has been impressive.

Iceland plans to unplug itself from all dependence on fossil fuels by 2050 to become a hydrogen economy. Already, Reykjavik (and all of Iceland) gets energy for heat, hot water and electricity entirely from hydropower and geothermal resources -- both of which are renewable and free of greenhouse gas emissions. Some vehicles even run on hydrogen, including three city buses.

These five amazing cities are only a snapshot of the greenification of urban areas around the world. Many others are also working to reduce their energy consumption, adopt environmentally friendly urban development practices and embrace green living lifestyles -- each greening the world one city at a time.

Future Green City: Masdar, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

In the middle of the oil-soaked Middle East, the emirate of Abu Dhabi is spending $15 billion to build an eco-friendly emerald city: Masdar City.
Masdar will make use of progressive sustainable and renewable resources including solar, wind power and biofuels for energy and water purification, as well as underground light rail transportation. Construction on Masdar broke ground in early 2008, and it should be completed in the next decade. The city will be a 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) zero-emission community with about 40,000 to 50,000 residents.

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