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The World's Most Sustainable Communities
A sustainable community is one designed to minimize its environmental impact, including its overall energy expenditure and waste. This is the most basic definition that can be offered on a topic about which there is much disagreement.
The UN-established Brandtland Commission, purposed to mobilize nations around sustainable development, has thus far produced the most widely recognized definition of sustainable development: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Although there is variance as to how exactly this goal is achieved, it is not as big a problem as much as it demonstrates that the portrait of the sustainable community remains incomplete.
Delightfully, it means that we discover a showcase of locales and their renditions of green living and energy renewal that disclose their endeavors to live within means while saving the future.
So who is doing it well? Many could be listed, but here is a list of the most consistent. Four premier cities are featured and include very informative videos; four others are listed in sidebars.
Reykjavik, Iceland: Eco-Friendly City
Plus...Vancouver, British Columbia (CAN)
A large city drawing 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
Reykjavik is considered by some the greenest city in the world in the greenest country on earth. This capital city of only 120,000 boasts some of the best sustainable practices of any place. The city’s heat and electricity is entirely supplied by geothermal and hydropower sources. The move has saved the city billions of dollars in heating costs since it was begun in the 1940s. The city also uses hydrogen-powered buses, the exhaust of which is pure water.
Iceland has been working toward total independence of fossil fuels for more than 50 years now with the year 2050 as its target date. It is understandable then that Reykjavik should lead the way. The city is seeking the acclaim of being Europe’s greenest city and is in the running for the title of European Green Capital first awarded in 2010.
Copenhagen, Denmark: Best Practices in Energy Renewal
Plus...Abu Dhabi, UAE
An oil city using its billions to fund endeavors in renewable energy and sustainable technology.
Copenhagen is a model of sustainable development. Tough policy keeps sustainability an important tenant in the city, policy like mandatory green roof statutes. The city is currently installing “pocket parks” around the city. These parks, half the size of soccer fields, support the goal that by 2015 ninety percent of its citizens should be able to walk to a green space in less than 15 minutes—that is, if they don’t bike there.
One-third of the Copenhagen’s 1.2 million inhabitants take a bike to work, college, or school each day via 217 miles of bikeway.
The city reuses excess heat from incinerator and power plants to heat its downtown buildings. Copenhagen currently boasts 5,600 windmills that generate ten percent of Denmark’s energy; but in 2001 the world’s largest windmill park was built offshore that further supplies four percent of Copenhagen’s own energy. A new metro system was introduced in 2000, this in a thriving capital that has less than the average number of cars than other locales in Denmark.
Copenhagen was awarded the European Environmental Award in 2006 for holistic planning and cleaning up its public waterways.
Malmo, Sweden: The Environmentally-Conscious City
Plus...Portland, Oregon (USA)
America's greenest city with more than 92,000 acres of green space and 74 miles of hiking, running, and biking trails.
Malmo is a city on a mission. The city plans to be climate-neutral (emitting no greenhouse gases) by 2020 and completely powered by renewable energy by 2030. Already it has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and been a recipient of the UN Habitat’s Scroll of Honor Award for its approach to becoming an eco-city.
Portions of Malmo today run entirely off of renewable energy. Household waste is burned to generate heat and electricity, and the city recycles 70 percent of the waste collected in its several recycling houses.
Malmo boasts the world’s first emissions-free electric street trains and features innovative green architecture, like botanical roof gardens that reduce runoff and add insulation to buildings, thereby reducing energy costs.
Green space ordinances require developers to include a minimum amount of greenery and “green points” in every courtyard, like adding birdhouses or enough soil to sustain a garden. Most of all, the city is investing in centers for learning urban sustainability, one such being its Institute for Sustainable Urban Development.
Curitiba, Brazil: Urban Master Plan
A city converting its city vehicles to all-electric and using its large oil and natural gas fund to support sustainability innovation.
Called the ecological capital of Brazil, Curitiba, at 1.8 million inhabitants, has constantly placed at the very top of the list of global eco-cities. The city’s sustainable initiative began in the 1960s with a population explosion officials feared would change the character of the city. So a team of professionals launched a campaign—the Curitiba Master Plan—for strict controls on urban sprawl, traffic, and affordable public transit.
The Plan centers on a road system that curtails the city’s growth from its core outward and instead along five wide boulevards radiating from the core. Looping through the boulevards is the Trinary roadway comprised of two one-way streets proceeding in opposite directions that enclose a smaller two-lane street for express buses. Lower density developments are zoned in the farthest distances from the roads to reduce traffic.
The roadway allows the bus system—the best in the world—to work with ease. Buses are used by more than 2.3 million people daily, or 85 percent of the metropolis. Minibuses service outer residential areas and deliver riders to more conventional buses that bring the masses into the city center and other districts. Overall, the bus system saves about 27 million auto trips per year as well as 27 million liters of fuel. Additionally, Curitiba’s Green Exchange program offers the poor free transport and food in exchange for their recyclables and trash.
The city boasts 580 square feet of green space per capita. Curitiba was awarded the 2010 recipient of the Globe Award for sustainability.
There are many other examples of green communities. Let's all encourage our towns and regions to become more environmentally friendly. The "world's most sustainable community" can happen anywhere.