7 Hidden Eco-gems: Under-the-Radar Cities Worth a Visit


Scenes from Malmö, Sweden -- a hidden green city gem -- Björn Söderqvist @ flickr.
Portland, San Francisco, and New York. These three cities consistently rise to the top of U.S. and even global lists of great green cities. And while these cities, through both some natural advantages and hard policy work, have earned their green cred, there's more out there taking sustainable city building seriously. Caveat: This is not a scientific list, nor is it a ranking. Instead, it's a list of current cities (thus we skip over the not-yet-real places such as Masdar, Tianjin, and Dongtan) that meet most criteria of effective green cities and are worth a look for both right now and future greening.
Photo of Malmö's western skyline and Turning Torso by bjaglin @ flickr.
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Green Cities
What all greening cities -- and we use the word "greening" as no city, not even Portland, is yet truly green with a capital "G" -- have in common is vision and policy plan for smart growth. After that, the other important factors seem to be:

  • Good streets for bike and pedestrian traffic
  • Robust transit
  • Lots of green canopy
  • Expanding and connecting of open spaces
  • Natural storm water management techniques
  • Renewable energy for metropolitan power generation
But which cities out there are the up-and-comers, those starting to embrace these criteria, with the aesthetics and spirited citizenry that make cities great -- and green?

1. Malmö, Sweden

Malmö is in line to be a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) "One Planet Living" representative city. It was Sweden's first Fair Trade city, and you can tell in local cafés and restaurants, which feature lots of Fair Trade and organic choices. Malmö's latest sustainable city plan takes climate change into account and sets goals for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. Malmö is seriously building green, too —- the Hyllie section of town will run on 100% renewable energy and include lots of green roofs and urban gardens. Friendly competition from Copenhagen as well as nearby Växjö, which has won several awards for greening in Sweden, continues to keep Malmö on its toes. Malmö is definitely a role model for mid-sized green cities.
Photo of MEC green roof in Toronto by 416style @ flickr.

2. Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Generally when people think "green city" and "Canada" it is Vancouver that comes to mind, and for lots of great reasons, including 90 percent of its energy generated by renewable sources. But Toronto garnered top marks in Ethisphere's recent evaluation of cities that would be able to call themselves "Global Sustainability Centers" by 2020. Toronto can't perhaps generate as much excitement as Vancouver, but it scores well on the basics, has a good plan in place and some impressive stats —- the city has reduced greenhouse gas emissions 40% since 1990. Great ideas in Toronto include the adoption of a green roof policy, the green makeoverat the Brickworks, and zerofootprint toronto, which has the potential to inspire CO2 footprint makeovers and change the city's green self-image!

Our list of green cities nobody talks about continues on page 2!

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