Whether you’re a visitor or a resident, it’s always validating to see governments making moves to be more sustainable. Whether it’s implementing renewable energy, encouraging the use of alternative forms of transportation, or ramping up recycling or composting, there are lots of ways that cities across America are working to make urban living sustainable for generations to come.
Here are some of our favorites:
The city of Philadelphia has caught our eye in the past for its extensive green efforts, and it continues to impress. The city has a lofty goal of being 90 percent zero-waste and litter-free by 2035, and has a wealth of resources, volunteer opportunities, activities, and initiatives to involve individuals, small businesses, and schools in these efforts. What’s more, the Philadelphia Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet comprises representatives of governmental departments, agencies, city council people, and residents, and works toward meeting the zero-waste goal in various ways, such as studying and improving litter-enforcement efforts and developing strategies to decrease the amount of waste generated citywide through resident programs like Philacycle. Residents can even volunteer to become Philacycle Captains, helping to educate their neighbors on recycling, and getting involved with volunteer events like neighborhood clean-ups.
2. Washington, D.C.
Our nation’s capital has the oldest bike sharing system in the country. When it launched in 2008, SmartbikeDC had a fleet of 120 bikes and more than 1,500 members. While SmartbikeDC only lasted a couple of years, its legacy endures and today the city boasts at least 7 bike share programs, including electric bikes, electric scooters, and dockless bikes that can be found via an app. Programs like these are known to ease roadway congestion, improve residents’ health, and reduce pollution, among other benefits. In a city known for its especially bad traffic, these programs are definitely a boon to residents and visitors alike.
3. Seattle, WA
Last summer, Seattle became the first major city to ban single-use plastic straws and utensils. It took a decade for the law to finally take effect, due in part to lack of available alternatives, but now restaurants and other businesses are required to only provide straws upon request, and in that case they must be made of compostable or recyclable materials. (There’s an exception for those who need flexible straws due to medical conditions). Other parts of the country are following suit: Look for cities in California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Florida to announce similar bans in the near future.
4. Las Vegas, NV
It might be a surprise to find Sin City on this list, but Las Vegas has become a bastion of solar energy. After all, Nevada is also home to the Tesla Gigafactory, and just outside of Las Vegas sits the world’s third-largest solar power plant. This factory has enabled Las Vegas to power its public and municipal buildings entirely with solar energy! The city also is testing some innovative streetlights that are powered by a combination of solar power and the kinetic energy of pedestrians. Talk about a renewable resource!
5. Honolulu, HI
Often at the top of “greenest city” lists, Honolulu has been feeling the effects of climate change perhaps more keenly than other parts of the United States, since it’s on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean!
The city’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency has been working on an ambitious plan to offset its residents’ impact on the environment. Plans include increasing the urban tree canopy coverage, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions throughout various government departments, and involving citizens in reducing emissions and pollution. Renewable-powered government vehicles and more walkable communities are also in the works. It seems like the island is off to a good start in achieving its goal: To be 100 percent clean energy and carbon neutral by 2045.
6. Detroit, MI
Who would’ve thought that the Motor City would now be making a name for itself because of its urban farms? A city ordinance passed around 5 years ago is encouraging residents to transformed once-vacant lots around the city into mini-farms, supplying as-local-as-it-gets produce to local restaurants and selling — or even giving — produce to residents who often don’t have any other access to fresh food. It’s estimated that there are around 1,500 gardens and farms throughout the city, ranging from multi-acre, for-profit farms to private, backyard garden plots. Urban farms have myriad benefits, from improving air quality and community engagement, to providing locally sourced food options.
7. Denver, CO
The city’s Office of Sustainability is fast approaching its deadline for its 2020 Sustainability Goals, which originated back in 2013. The ambitious set of goals cover a wide range of environmental and livability factors, from air and water quality to land-use to food production and recycling. An update shows that, indeed, air quality has improved significantly, CO2 emissions have decreased, and the recycling rate has increased — though not to its goal of 34 percent yet. The city has some work to do in making its bodies of water safe for swimming and fishing, as well as its goal in cutting fossil-fuel usage. Still, it’s a start, and the city has involved its residents with a strong educational campaign.
It’s great to see cities taking matters into their own hands with regard to sustainability. And after all, what is a city but it’s residents? Progress starts with individuals who get involved, whether it’s attending town halls, volunteering, or simply educating ourselves online and making our own lifestyle changes for a better world.