Green Cities

These urban areas are working to make their neighborhoods (and the planet) healthier and more sustainable.

By Beth Huxta


Midsize Cities (population between 150,000 and 500,000)
Boise, Idaho
Score: 8.039
Population: 198,500

The "City of Trees" got its name when a French guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition caught sight of the lush, wooded valley and exclaimed, "Les Bois! Les Bois!" Much of the downtown area relies on geothermal heating (captured from sources of hot water and steam near the earth's surface). Boise's geothermal heating system—set up in 1892—is the largest of its kind, warming more than 360 buildings, or 4.4 million square feet (equivalent to 1,700 houses). The new Banner Bank, an 11-story office, was featured in the documentary Green Is the Color of Money, by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ben Shedd. It is said to be one of the world's most energy-efficient high-performance buildings constructed at standard costs. For those who want fresh food with their green buildings, Capital City Public Market offers produce from local growers and artisanal foods crafted by Boise-based producers (

Little Rock, Arkansas
Score: 13.296
Population: 184,000

City in a Park is an initiative to get a green space within eight blocks of every residence. Little Rock is well on its way, with 5,800 acres of park space, including Little Rock's largest public green space—1,700-acre Fourche Creek Bottoms. The city hosts the headquarters building for Heifer International, a nonprofit dedicated to combating hunger. The structure was named one of the 10 greenest buildings in the United States by the American Institute of Architects. Designed to use up to 55 percent less energy than standard, it boasts such enviro-friendly features as a restored wetland to collect stormwater for irrigation.

Anchorage, Alaska
Score: 12.186
Population: 278,000

City government cut energy usage by programming 3,000 of its computers to "hibernate" when not in use—saving $84,000 in energy costs and reducing CO2 emissions by 1,104 tons a year (the equivalent of taking 251 cars off the road). In this coastal city (set among six mountain ranges), gardeners get compost from a local facility that keeps 5,000 tons of waste out of landfills.

Des Moines, Iowa
Score: 10.768
Population: 194,000

Operation Downtown is a project aiming to increase the number of green spaces, plantings, and streetscapes. One example: 120 hanging baskets in the East Village neighborhood.

The parks department funds the Urban Prairie Project, which builds pockets of native prairie plants in the city, and a Rain Gardens initiative to promote the benefits of natural stormwater management.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Score: 14.289
Population: 179,000

The Mormons who settled here in 1847 set up an ingenious irrigation system that has made the city a green oasis in the desert. In 2001, Mayor Rocky Anderson (who has solar panels at his home) launched the Salt Lake City Green program, which has cut the city government's greenhouse-gas emissions by 36,200 tons, built popular support for the new light-rail system, and made the city more walker- and cyclist-friendly.

Red Butte Botanical Garden's SpringFest offers demonstrations on organic gardening, composting, and native Utah plants.