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What makes a city green?

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Copenhagen. Portland. Bogotá. Even though scattered across different continents, there is at least one thing that these three cities have in common in terms of function and culture: They are all considered to be some of greenest cities in the world.

What do these cities do to become world leaders in urban sustainability? From transportation to harnessing solar power, the policies and actions of these cities can help your own city or town become friendlier to the environment.

Efficient Public Transportation and Biking

One thing the top green cities have in common is their increase in efficient public transportation and the prevalence of bike lanes and bike-friendly commuting.

More sustainable cities have better and easier public transportation from subways to metros. Los Angeles has lanes specifically for their buses. Portland, Ore. utilized its city’s layout to make light rails and Metro use an easier and more efficient option as opposed to automobiles.

Metros that rework their master plan can make more direct routes and less stops, making transit by bus quicker than previously, and therefore allowing commuters to leave their cars at home. Reykjavik, Iceland have also made the switch to hydrogen powered buses.

Green cities also put a heavier emphasis on biking opposed to vehicular transportation. Biking in high density urban areas can be a challenge if there are no viable options other than riding in the street, which often angers drivers and is a safety risk.

Cities like Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden combat this by installing separate bike lanes, getting buses to allow bikes for longer trips and creating a bike sharing program. Right now in Copenhagen, 33 percent of commuters choose to go by bike, and that number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2015.

Using Local, Renewable Sources

Solar energy, hydroelectric power and geothermal energy are all renewable sources that eco-friendly cities utilize to be more sustainable.

Solar energy is probably the easiest energy to obtain and it can be used in both smaller and larger functions of daily life. Chicago, Vancouver and Philadelphia have solar powered trash compactors. These cans from BigBelly Solar are the size of a normal garbage can, but its solar panels allow it to operate without electricity and it acts as a trash compactor, allowing five times as much garbage in a single bag.

Solar panels are also used to operate buildings. The Cincinnati Zoo installed solar panels over their parking lot. The energy harvested from those panels are used to operate the entire zoo, and on sunny days the zoo can operate fully off the grid, and any leftover energy can be stored and used on cloudy days and throughout the winter when the light is weaker.

Some cities have other renewable energy options available to them due to their geographical locations. Reykjavik is completely powered by renewable energy because they are surrounded by geothermal energy which can be converted into clean energy. 90 percent of Vancouver is powered by renewable energy through hydroelectric, solar, wave, wind and tidal energy.


With transportation and energy use, it all comes down to leaders who are serious about the environment and who can make an impact. From a single citizen to the entire region’s government, anybody can be a green leader. Portland became green because its city’s government was the first in the United States to take climate change seriously. Their planning and lawmaking allowed for the changes necessary to make their city sustainable.

Leaders both in science and government made it possible for Iceland to harness geothermal energy and run their capital entirely on it. Business can make changes by building to LEED standards.

Saving the environment relies on leadership, and that all comes down to every single person. You can take action by making small changes like riding the bus or biking to work and by voting for politicians who want to use their position to make the city or country greener.



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