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Rating cities by their effect on the environment

By Kate Appleton
October 3, 2012
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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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Inspiration

It's BBQ Heaven at this weekend's Mid-Missouri's Roots 'N Blues

The streets of Columbia, Mo., will be smokin' this weekend for the second annual Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ Festival, which kicks off Friday night. The free event celebrates the region's roots with two days of nonstop music and meat. I was in the college town of Columbia for last year's inaugural festival, which drew more than 65,000 visitors. Nothing could top chowing down on a sauce-smothered, pulled-pork sandwich while a member of the Blind Boys of Alabama weaved through the crowd at Peace Park during the encore. After that, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars got all of downtown dancing. Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy headlines this year's lineup, which features 28 musical acts, including bluegrass rocker Jerry Douglas and local favorite The Henry Clay Band. Event planners anticipate a crowd of 100,000, so stake out a spot at one of the three stages early, and kill time by feasting on the festivals other offerings: More than 57 BBQ aficionados will be vying for accolades in the Kansas City Barbeque Society State Champion BBQ Contest. The perfect place to celebrate BBQ and blues alike, Columbia is sandwiched between Kansas City and St. Louis, and it's an easy drive from either side of I-70. The festival kicks off Friday at 5 p.m., and continues through Saturday night. rootsnbluesnbbq.com

Inspiration

The world's best airports

The word airport can prompt all kinds of reactions: horror at the thought of using the airport bathroom, anger at the gate change that caused you to miss your connection, and on occasion, even joy at having a smooth, stress-free experience. Earlier this year, The World Airport Awards were announced, aiming to recognize the best airports. For the seventh year in a row, Hong Kong was named the World’s Best Airport. Munich was named Europe’s winner, while San Francisco came in first in North America. Singapore’s airport won top ranks in the categories of best duty free shopping, best airport dining and best leisure amenities. But Skytrax's survey wasn't the perfect one for discovering the opinions of American budget travelers. The awards are given every year by the British aviation research group Skytrax. They're based on surveys of more than 8.2 million passengers worldwide. Airlines are rated for terminal cleanliness, staff efficiency, security processing, walking distances, and features like shopping and dining. But the survey is disproportionately filled out by business travelers, which might skew the results somewhat. At This Just In, we’ve asked you about your favorite airports before, and more than 50 of you responded. So I thought it may be interesting to compare what you said with the survey results. There were a few favorite airports that appeared in both the survey results and in your own comments, like Singapore and Munich. And then there were also some of our hometown airports that offer a sense of place and distinct character. Here are a few of your favorites: Sarasota-Bradenton: "The water walls, plants, and aquariums add much class and make it so unlike an airport. No endless shuttles here — just sun and palms." Minneapolis-Saint Paul: "In addition to being a pleasant airport, you can catch an inexpensive light rail train right at the airport. In one direction is a beautiful park and the other is the Mall of America." Singapore: "It has indoor gardens, a free movie theater with comfortable seats, a barber shop, a hotel, scores of shops and 300 free internet kiosks." Munich: "Clean, modern, open, easy connections to rail, well-marked and friendly staff." Portland, Ore.: "You know that you are in the Pacific Northwest as you walk around. Large floor to ceiling windows look out towards the Willamette River and woodsy scenery. Also, there is a playroom for kids where they can crawl and play on a huge airplane."

Inspiration

A/C comes to the London Underground

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Inspiration

Ryanair debuts in-flight cell phone service shortly

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