Accolades for an Aegean City

izmir shoreline scene photo

Can Izmir sustain the progress it's made in cleaning up its bay? Photo by Veyis Polat via Flickr

Almost 3,500 years of urban history have made Izmir into the city it is today--sprawling, built-up, and traffic-clogged. Not a place you'd expect to see much in the way of environmental progress. But Turkey's third-largest city has drawn kudos for clean-up efforts that are making the area more habitable for human and animal residents alike.Though Izmir has a lovely waterfront location, until recently, its shoreline was not somewhere you'd want to linger. A building boom starting in the 1960s left Izmir Bay murky and smelly from uncontrolled dumping of industrial and domestic waste. But a clean-up project launched in 2000 has reduced contamination and helped nurse Turkey's largest natural bay back to health. Today, fish populations are bouncing back and pelicans, cormorants, herons, flamingos, and other birds have returned to the bay.

As recently as 2007, the city's water supply contained dangerous levels of arsenic, which have now been dramatically reduced, a success story praised by scientists visiting Izmir this year for the International Congress of Safe Water Production. "I have seen that Izmir has been very interested in the problem and has been seriously battling it," Dr. Marta Litter of Argentina’s General San Martin University told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "I think the work done here has been really successful." At the event, Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu talked about the dangers of drought, a concern that has sparked a municipal water-conservation campaign.

City officials also drew accolades from Greenpeace for investigating geothermal energy sources and other alternatives to coal-fueled power plants. And after several years of delay, the city is embarking on construction of five new tramway lines that are expected to help ease traffic and improve access to recreational spots.

Vigilance will be needed, however, to ensure that continued development doesn't erase these environmental gains. A plan to dramatically boost cruise-ship tourism by building a new port is of particular concern, especially when the developer says its goal is to "flood the shores of the Aegean with tourists." That doesn't sound like much fun for the tourists or the shores.

More about urban environmental efforts:
5 Great Green Ways US Cities Are Leading by Example
7 Hidden Eco-gems: Under-the-Radar Cities Worth a Visit
Ecopolis Plans Future Green Cities
Mexico City Launches "Green Plan"
Tall Cities = Green Cities?
Transition City Bristol: Tackling Climate change and Peak Oil with City Planning
Clinton Foundation Announces Multi-City Climate Initiative

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