Green Cities

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

By Beth Huxta


Major Metropolitan Areas (population more than 500,000) Portland, Oregon
Score: 6.736
Population: 537,000

Progressive local businesses send their food and paper waste to Portland Composts! Recycling rates in the city are at almost 60 percent (the highest in the country), there are 43 miles of rail transit—public-transport commuters make up 13.3 percent of the population—and Portland has the largest wooded park within city limits in the United States.

Now Portland is starting the next wave in renewable energy. Researchers at Oregon State University are studying how to use buoys off Oregon's rocky coast to generate electricity through wave power.

Score: 10.704
Population: 591,000

Another mayor up to green good is Boston's Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who wants to turn "Bean Town into Green Town." For City Hall Plaza, he proposed putting in a 150-foot wind turbine that could generate up to one-quarter of the electricity used in the building. Boston's annual AltWheels transportation festival presents information on all forms of sustainable transportation.

The Green Monster in renowned Fenway Park will no longer be the only green thing at the 95-year-old baseball stadium. Plans include making the lighting more energy-efficient, installing solar panels, and offering fans locally grown, organic food.

Score: 9.736
Population: 582,000

A city of firsts: "The Emerald City" was the first city in the United States to adopt a green building law—all new city construction must achieve a LEED Silver rating or better—and City Light, Seattle's energy utility, was the first utility to attain zero net emissions of climate pollution. Mayor Greg Nickels started the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which now has more than 600 mayors pledging to cut CO2 emissions by 7 percent in the next five years. For the 2008 budget, the mayor proposed $7 million for the Orphaned Parks Wish Fund. And he didn't stop there—this fall, he launched the Seattle Climate Action Now grassroots campaign to raise public awareness about global warming.

Score: 10.832
Population: 567,000

The Tree by Tree, Mile High Million program aims to plant 1 million trees in Denver and surrounding areas by 2025. In just the first year, 65,000 trees were planted.

San Francisco
Score: 12.493
Population: 744,000

On October 20, 2007, Alcatraz, City Hall, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other San Francisco areas went dark for an hour from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., as part of the Lights Out San Francisco campaign to raise awareness of energy usage. The city also distributed 100,000 compact fluorescent lightbulbs to residents. Cleaning the San Francisco air is the 197,000-square-foot roof of the California Academy of Science, now planted with native California plants that also help to insulate the building.

In March 2007, the city government banned nonbiodegradable plastic shopping bags—the first law of its kind in the country. Mayor Gavin Newsom is cracking down on plastic water bottles, too, with plans to prohibit the purchase of single-serving bottled water with city funds.

Score: 15.686
Population: 1,450,000

Since 1974, Philadelphia Green, a pioneer urban greening program, has advocated for the development and care of community gardens and open spaces all over the city. The Mill Creek Farm has turned a once-vacant lot into a source of affordable organic food—and a model for sustainable living—in its low-income community in West Philadelphia. Helping to clean the Philadelphia air are the more than 25,000 residents that participate in PhillyCarShare, the world's largest regional car-sharing organization.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is the world's largest indoor flower show.