Rating cities by their effect on the environment

By Kate Appleton
October 3, 2012
Mark Karrass/Corbis

For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population now lives in cities. This accelerating urbanization raises serious concerns about how cities will thrive and accommodate newcomers’ needs. (Consider that by 2015, there will be 23 mega-cities of more than 10 million people, according to the U.N.)

Researchers at SustainLane, a community devoted to sustainable living, began evaluating U.S. cities back in 2005 to determine which are best prepared to meet such 21st-century challenges—and which policies are most effective.

This year, Portland, Ore., again ranks as the greenest of the 50 largest U.S. cities (determined by 2004 census data). Atlanta gets a most-improved nod for jumping up to #19 from #38 in 2006, thanks primarily to a boom in LEED-certified buildings. It’s encouraging to note that the median and average scores of all 50 cities have increased over the past three years.

How do other cities rank and why?

SustainLane’s methodology takes into account air and water quality, parks, public transportation networks, green building, renewable and alternative energy, and farmers markets.

The 2008 rankings say a lot about a given city’s quality of life and reveal some national trends: more cycling (Portland, New York City, D.C., Minneapolis); revitalized downtowns (Columbus, Philadelphia); investment in public transportation (Phoenix, Charlotte, Seattle); growth of wind and solar energy production (San Francisco, Houston, Sacramento); and more community groups (Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago.)

SustainLane’s results will be showcased at the first global Sustainable Cities and Communities conference held this week in Geneva, Switzerland. In other news, Japan has begun using the organization’s methodology to rank its own cities; SustainLane hopes more copycats will follow.

15 greenest U.S. cities:

1 Portland

2 San Francisco

3 Seattle

4 Chicago

5 New York

6 Boston

7 Minneapolis

8 Philadelphia

9 Oakland

10 Baltimore

11 Denver

12 Milwaukee

13 Austin

14 Sacramento

15 Washington

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