By ANGELA BLACK
McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE PHOTO/TRAVEL PORTLAND — The MAX light rail in downtown Portland, Ore., offers an earth-friendly transportation option. Portland is ranked the greenest city by the Mother Nature Network’s editors.
Although the EPA has not established official criteria for ranking the greenness of a city, there are several key areas to measure for effectiveness in carbon footprint reduction. These include air and water quality, efficient recycling and management of waste, percentage of LEED-certified buildings, acres of land devoted to greenspace, use of renewable energy sources, and easy access to products and services that make green lifestyle choices (organic products, buying local, clean transportation methods) easy.
Mother Nature Network’s editorial team rounded up its top 10:
10. Austin, Texas
Carbon neutral by 2020 – it’s an ambitious goal, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Austin Energy is the nation’s largest provider of renewable energy, which makes its goal to power the city solely on renewable energy within reach. As the gateway to the scenic Texas Hill Country, acreage in Austin that’s devoted to green space includes 206 parks, 12 preserves, 26 greenbelts and more than 50 miles of trails.
9. Chicago The Windy City has embraced land sustainability far longer than you may think. In 1909, pioneering city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham created a long-range plan for the lakefront that balanced urban growth, and created a permanent greenbelt around the metropolitan area. This greening of the city continues through the Chicago Green Roof Program. More than 2.5 million square feet of city roofs support plant life – including Willis Tower (formerly called Sears Tower) and the city hall building. Also, about 500,000 new trees have been planted.
The unofficial coffee klatch capital of the country is also sustainable-living savvy. More than 20 public buildings in Seattle are LEED-certified or under construction for LEED certification. Through an incentive program, residents are encouraged to install solar panels on their homes for energy conservation. Sustainable Ballard, a green neighborhood group and sustainability festival host, offers ongoing workshops about how to live in harmony with the environment.
7. Berkeley, Calif.
A great place to find an abundance of organic and vegetarian restaurants is also on the cutting edge of sustainability. Berkeley is recognized as a leader in the incubation of clean technology for wind power, solar power, biofuels and hydropower.
6. Cambridge, Mass.
In 2008, Prevention Magazine named Cambridge ‘‘the best walking city.’’ Thoreau’s Walden Pond can be found in nearby Concord, and education powerhouses Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University are located here. In 2002, city officials implemented a major climate protection plan and today most city vehicles are fueled by B20 biodiesel or electricity. All new construction or major renovations must meet LEED standards. And a project called ‘‘Compost that Stuff’’ collects and processes organic waste from residents, restaurants, bars and hotels.
5. Eugene, Ore.
Known as the Emerald City for its natural green beauty, this baby boomer haven and second largest city in the state has been doing the ‘‘green’’ thing since the 1960s. In 2008, after only one year of service, the Emerald Express, a hybrid public transit system, won a Sustainable Transport award. Cycling is the preferred mode of transportation, made possible by the 30 miles of off-street bike paths and 29 dedicated bike routes, which total a whopping 150 miles of smog-free travel throughout the metro area.
4. Oakland, Calif.
Residents of this port city have access to an abundance of fresh, organic food, much of which is locally sourced. It’s also home to the nation’s cleanest tap water, hydrogen-powered public transit and the country’s oldest wildlife refuge. Oakland also plans to have zero waste and be oil-independent by 2020, and already gets 17 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
It’s hard to think of this city without also thinking of tea – as a commodity, not a drink. Boston ranks high among the urban green elite. Sustainability efforts include a ‘‘Green by 2015” goal to replace traditional taxi cabs with hybrid vehicles, recycle trash to power homes, use more solar panels and use more electric motorbikes for transportation. The city’s first annual Down2Earth conference was held in 2008. It’s designed to educate residents about how to live the most sustainable lifestyle.
2. San Francisco
Declared by Mayor Gavin Newsom to be America’s solar energy leader, this vibrant city of cultural tolerance was a 1960s icon and epicenter for the Summer of Love. But in addition to peace, love and solar power, there’s also an innovative recycling program with an artist-in-residence at the recycling facility. The artist uses his work to inspire residents to recycle and conserve. San Francisco is also the first U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags, a concept that supports its effort to divert 75 percent of landfill waste by 2010.
1. Portland, Ore.
The city of microbrewery mania and home to megastore Powell’s Books – one of the few remaining independent booksellers in the country – is No. 1 in sustainability. Declared the most bikeable city in the United States for its 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes, Portland certainly makes forgoing gas-powered travel easy. And for lessons in DIY sustainable food sources, classes are available for container gardening and cheese making, or beekeeping and chicken-keeping.