Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The "Greenest" Cities

The Green Guide, an environmental newsletter, has ranked Eugene, Oregon, at the top of its survey of America's most eco-friendly cities in 2006, "cities whose green achievements set the standard for others." The ranking is based on eleven criteria, including air quality, recycling, green space and transportation. Austin, Texas, was runner up and Portland, Oregon, came third. Boston was ranked a fairly respectable 11th.

Eugene is “well known as a powerhouse of green industry, clustering sustainable businesses like an environmentally minded Silicon Valley. …Residents enjoy numerous bike trails, clean air and water, parkland and outlying wilderness areas.

“Hydroelectric and wind power contribute over 85 percent of Eugene's power, reducing greenhouse gas emissions considerably. A little over 16 percent of Eugene is green space, including athletic fields, city parks, public gardens, trails and waterfront. The city has over 2,500 acres of publicly owned wetlands.”
Reuters’ story on the survey was headlined, "’Greenest' U.S. city faces same problems as others," as if to reassure us that we shouldn't bother going to all that trouble to act cooperatively with our home environment, because it makes no real difference.

The article, as you might expect, has a much more positive tone. But problems still sell better at the newsstand than solutions.
The city of Eugene has adopted aggressive environmental policies aimed at conserving energy, using alternative fuels and fostering an industry of green businesses. By 2020, Eugene aims to be carbon neutral in its buildings and operations... Eugene's entire fleet of diesel vehicles including heavy machinery and fire trucks run on a biodiesel blend. (Now at two-thirds, soon the entire fleet of its 400 automobiles will be hybrids...)

Nonetheless, Eugene struggles with many of the same problems facing other growing U.S. cities: urban sprawl, congested roadways and limited public transportation.

Eugene's vision is to transform the city's downtown into a more vibrant area with mixed commercial- and residential-use buildings to stem city sprawl, while buying up land for new parks and bike paths. Voters approved a $27.5 million bond in November to purchase land to build new parks, upgrade existing ones and expand hiking trails.

Connecting it all will be the city's new rapid transit system of large hybrid-electric buses that run in dedicated lanes with special traffic signals to guarantee consistent commuter times similar to train travel.

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy says business and the environment are no longer in opposing corners. "People used to say you can't be good for business and protect the environment at the same time," said Piercy, a former state lawmaker who became mayor in 2005. "That is absolutely not the truth."

(By Daisuke Wakabayashi, publ. Dec. 11, 2006)

(Related, here:)
- Cambridge to ban or regulate leaf blowers

- Dell Starts Recycling Program with Free Home Pickup

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