8 Cities With Great Green Projects Others Should Imitate

Solar-powered supertrees in Singapore are lit up at night.
Singapore's supertrees harness solar energy to power their dazzling lights at night.

Mike Enerio / Flickr / CC0

Packed with people and cars and industry, cities are notoriously polluting. They're also hotspots of opportunity for green innovation—ripe with bright ideas and available funding. Just take Mexico City's sustainable rainwater-capturing systems or Newcastle's plans to heat a university geothermally.

Whether by capturing and reusing rainwater or embedding solar panels into cycle paths, these seven cities are doing their part to cut down on greenhouse gases. They just might provide the inspiration for your city's next big green project.

Here are eight cities with green projects that other cities should emulate.

1
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Food Waste Biofuel (New York, New York)

Digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
Andraz_Naglic / Getty Images

In 2016, Brooklyn's Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant became the site of one of the U.S.'s first biofuel-to-natural-gas distribution projects. That is to say that it turns more than 100 tons of liquefied food waste into electricity-producing biofuel each day. And that's only half its potential.

When the NYC Department of Environmental Protection announced the project in 2013, it said it would eventually produce enough renewable natural gas to heat 5,200 homes and that it could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 90,000 metric tons in addition to diverting 10% or more of the city's daily food waste from landfills. Though other U.S. cities have followed suit, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant remains one of the country's largest food-waste-to-biofuel facilities.

2
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Geothermal Energy (Newcastle, England)

Tyne Bridge, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, UK
Chris Hepburn / Getty Images

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne began drilling boreholes for a groundbreaking geothermal heating project in 2011. The project is a partnership between Newcastle University, UK Geoenergy Observatories, and other universities. The plan includes 12 holes—three of them already drilled—more than 6,500 feet deep. This will allow the city to tap into a collection of groundwater kept at 176 degrees Fahrenheit by the Earth's heat. The circulation of this hot water will be able to heat the 24-acre Science Centre and 140-shop Eldon Square mall at a comfortable temperature without using fossil fuels.

3
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Solar-Powered Supertrees (Singapore)

Aerial view of solar-powered "supertrees" in Singapore

Soo Hau Jun / EyeEm / Getty Images

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans for the Gardens by the Bay nature park in 2005. It was completed seven years later, featuring 250 acres of green space, a conservatory complex, and—its star attraction—18 colossal, treelike structures. These "supertrees" are equipped with photovoltaic cells that harness solar energy, like real trees, and they collect rainwater for use in irrigation and fountain displays and vent air for the conservatories.

At the time they were introduced, Singapore had the largest per-capita carbon footprint of any other country in the Asia-Pacific region. The manmade trees, ranging in height from about 80 to 160 feet, aimed to instill a sense of reverence for nature and natural resources. Today, Singapore is looked to as a green city with automated trash collection and a pedestrian-only town center.

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Solar-Powered Farmers Market (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Aerial view of downtown Albuquerque at sunset
Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Shopping at farmers markets is already sustainable because it teaches consumers to eat seasonally, buy fresh, and support local agriculture. However, Albuquerque's Downtown Growers' Market is extra sustainable, as it runs entirely on solar power. Cash machines, sound equipment for the weekly bands, and other electricity-based devices are powered purely by the sun.

Additionally, the market composts, asks guests to bring their own containers and utensils to cut down on waste, and offers a bike valet service to encourage guests to cycle instead of drive.

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Green Public Housing (Sydney, Australia)

High Angle View Of Modern Buildings In Sydney
Olga Kashubin / EyeEm / Getty Images

Government housing developments are great for affordability, but sustainability is rarely a priority. Not so in Sydney, where the Lilyfield Housing Redevelopment project received the highest rating from Green Star, an Australian rating system that's similar to the U.S.'s LEED.

Eco-friendly design touches include passive solar and natural ventilation, so that the building doesn't need air-conditioning, bicycle parking instead of car spaces, rainwater-harvesting tanks that capture more than 100,000 liters of rain to water gardens and fill toilets, and solar photovoltaic/thermal panels. Lilyfield Housing Redevelopment now comprises 88 apartments.

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Solar Cycle Lanes (the Netherlands)

Person on bicycle path in the Netherlands

Oleh Slobodeniuk / Getty Images

The Netherlands is the cycle capital of the world, so it makes sense that Krommenie, a city in the province of North Holland, was the first in the world to introduce a power-producing bike path. Opened in 2014, the 236-foot SolaRoad was a prototype for potential solar-harnessing highways. It was made of concrete panels containing solar cells covered by a centimeter of glass. Due to damage to the glass, it was closed to the public in 2020, but the Netherlands hasn't given up on the concept of permanent solar cycle paths just yet.

A bike path near Amsterdam was equipped with solar panels in 2016, and in 2020, the Dutch province of Utrecht announced that it, too, would begin laying solar panels on an already-established bike lane in the municipality of Rhenen.

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Rainwater Harvesting (Mexico City, Mexico)

View of Mexico City skyline
John Coletti / Getty Images

In Mexico, a country of 129 million people, almost a million lack access to safe water. Climate change has accelerated Mexico's water crisis and forced some farmers to switch from growing corn—a water-heavy crop—to pistachios and cacti. What's more, experts say the problem will only worsen as the temperature rises: Mexico City's natural water availability could fall by up to 17% by 2050.

The solution? The nonprofit Isla Urbana, which has been installing domestic rainwater collection devices around Mexico since 2009, has teamed up with the government to install 100,000 rainwater-harvesting systems in Mexico City by 2024. These systems can catch about 40% of the annual water supply for an individual residence.

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World's First Urban Carbon Sink (Stockholm, Sweden)

Aerial view of Stockholm
Aaron Geddes Photography / Getty Images

Stockholm's five biochar production facilities, the first of which opened in 2017, make up the world's first urban carbon sink. Biochar is a charcoal that can be made from organic waste, and it is praised for its carbon sequestration properties. Stockholm's five plants are estimated to be producing about 8,000 tons of char per year, sequestering enough carbon to negate the emissions of about 4,000 green cars. The goal of the project is to generate enough energy to heat 400 apartments.