It’s Not Easy Being Greenest: 10 Cities to Watch

Mayor Richard Daly might be determined to transform Chicago into the greenest city in America (see main story), but his tree-planting initiatives, building improvements and promises to secure 20 percent of the city’s electricity from renewable sources might not be enough to outshine cities such as Seattle and San Francisco.In addition to authoring the Mayors" Climate Protection Agreement, Seattle’s Mayor Greg Nickels has called for cutting his city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 170,000 tons annually.San Francisco, meanwhile, boasts the U.S.’s largest fleet of alternative fuel vehicles and, with its overhaul of Laguna Honda Hospital, is poised to become the home of America’s first green hospital. Meanwhile, smaller cities (such as Ithaca, New York, where methane is recovered from landfills, and even the fire stations are energy efficient) are also acting aggressively on their commitment to climate protection:

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Portland, Oregon adopted its first global warming action plan in 1993, and it has now evolved to include more than 100 short- and long-term initiatives to reduce emissions. The city now gets 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy, has built 40 high-performance green buildings, and has seen a 75 percent growth in public transit use.

Densely populated New York doesn’t usually come to mind as an environmentally friendly city but, per capita, New Yorkers are among the most energy efficient people in the U.S. Some 82 percent of Manhattan residents travel to work by public transit, by bike or on foot, and now, as a result of the Clean Air Taxis Act, hybrids are being added to the city’s fleet.

Boulder has the distinction of being named Colorado’s first Green Power Community by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), largely due to its use of wind power. To date, approximately 5,000 households and 300 businesses purchase wind power.

Chattanooga, Tennessee uses parking revenues to fund its fleet of free electric buses in its downtown area. The buses reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 3.5 million pounds and 600 pounds of particulate matter per year.

One of the first signatories of the Climate Protection Agreement, Minneapolis" Mayor R.T. Rybak also accepted the Best Workplaces for Commuters award from the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the city. With mass transit and carpool subsidies, and approximately 85 miles of bike lanes, 60 percent of people who commute into downtown Minneapolis use alternate transportation.

In 2002, Salt Lake City, Utah set a goal to reduce emissions by 21 percent, and is now 76 percent of the way there. As many as 125,000 area commuters now use the bus and TRAX, the new light rail, each day, and Mayor Rocky Anderson is encouraging the building of high-density housing, methane cogeneration and capture from the city’s wastewater treatment plant and landfills, and the purchase of wind power.

—Brianne Goodspeed