8 Cities Where Cleanliness Rules

Beautiful cityscape
Photo: S-F/Shutterstock

Some cities have a kind of gritty charm in their unkempt buildings, overused sidewalks and hazy air, things that contribute to a "big-city feel." Then there are those other cities, the ones where you can't help but be surprised by how clean everything is. Perhaps these places have benefited from environmentally conscious leadership, good urban planning, or strict littering laws. Perhaps cleanliness is just part of the local culture. Whatever the reason, these places prove that “urban” does not have to by synonymous with "dirty."

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Moyan Brenn/Flickr.

The sidewalks in Norway's relaxed capital city are known for being quite clean. Visitors might be puzzled, then, by the complete absence of trash cans around parts of the city. Mystery solved: Many Oslo neighborhoods are connected to the city's automatic trash disposal system, which uses pumps and pipes to move trash underground to incinerators where it is burned and used to create energy and heat for the city.

Keeping their city clean is a part of the local culture for Oslo residents. There is even a cartoonish anti-littering mascot who makes random appearances around the city reminding people not to litter and spearheading annual volunteer cleanup days.

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Singapore's impeccably clean streets reflect some of the strictest littering laws and best public services in the world. Though Singapore has loosened its tie a bit in recent years, various forms of littering are still finable offenses. Steep taxes for owning a car and a useful public transportation system mean that the air is quite clean in this Southeast Asian city state as well.

Perhaps in tandem with its reputation for cleanliness, Singapore has been accused of being a sterile place with no personality whatsoever. However, with its melting pot population, amazing food and arts scenes, there is certainly a lot to see here for visitors willing to look beyond the skyscrapers and shopping malls.

This photo shows an art installation commissioned for the iLight Marina Bay Festival. For a peek at the lights in action, check out this video.

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Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Few North American cities can match Calgary's green, clean initiatives, which might come as a surprise considering that this Alberta metropolis was basically built around the oil industry. However, both Forbes and consulting firm Mercer have recognized Calgary's efforts, naming it one of the cleanest cities in the world based on air quality, waste removal and water cleanliness among other factors.

A major education-based effort to increase recycling and composting is leading Calgary toward an 80 percent reduction in landfill usage over the next seven years. The city also has steep fines for littering both on the road and on the sidewalk. Throwing your trash on the ground can set you back as much as $1,000. There is also a municipal program that offers free graffiti removal for commercial and residential buildings.

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Bucchi Francesco/Shutterstock.

Already quite clean by world standards, Copenhagen has taken steps to decrease littering with new trash and recycling schemes that make it easier to find public garbage bins and recycling cans. The Danish capital also stands out because of its air quality, hopes to be carbon neutral by 2025, and already has a number of impressive green traits, including a long-term plan to make itself the world's most bike-friendly city.

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Adelaide, Australia

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Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, has been named the best place to live on the continent for the past three years by the Property Council of Australia, and the city has also received nods from consulting firm Mercer and the Economist magazine for its cleanliness and quality of life. Adelaide's layout includes a tremendous amount of parkland and wide avenues lined with greenery. British surveyor and colonist William Light designed Adelaide in 1837 with the goal of creating a city that was compact and user-friendly, but also had an abundance of green spaces.

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Wellington, New Zealand


Wellington, with an urban population of less than 200,000 (and 500,000 in its metro areas), is not as large as the other places on this list. However, art galleries, wine bars, a great nightlife and cosmopolitan vibe make this city feel much larger than it is, and has earned it comparisons to places like Hong Kong and San Francisco.

The relatively small population and geographic isolation lend the New Zealand capital naturally fresher, cleaner air, which works well with its pedestrian-friendly center. Pair that with a kind of small-town attitude and appreciation for nature, and it's easy to understand how keeping the streets clean is part of the local culture.

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Santa Fe, N.M.

Chris Corrie/Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A clean city is part of the culture in Santa Fe, N.M., where several art festivals feature works made solely with recycled materials and trash. The city also holds volunteer trash pickup days, and many of the buildings in the main tourist areas, including the famous Santa Fe Plaza, are kept pristine as part of the aggressive historic preservation efforts that have helped this city retain its timeless appearance.

Santa Fe also was recognized in 2012 by the American Lung Association for having the best air quality in terms of both ozone and particle pollution. This is thanks to the city's location and its rules. There are no major manufacturing zones within 200 miles of Santa Fe, and New Mexico has some of the nation's strictest emissions laws.

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The famous Waikiki beach and nearby downtown in Hawaii's capital city manage to stay impressively clean despite their heavy traffic. While some cities' organizations sponsor once-yearly cleanup days, the Waikiki Improvement Association holds quarterly cleanups of its famous beach. Recent cleanups have been coordinated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Honolulu also benefits from its location. With few major manufacturing operations on the islands and no pollution whatsoever blowing into Hawaii, the air is quite clean. Thanks to the Pacific winds, the small amount of emissions from the traffic and hotels blow away quickly. The regular rainfall also helps keep the air impressively free of pollutants.