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The Greening of America's Cities

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Author: Kevin Fields

The Greening of American Cities

Today, merely collecting the garbage, running a bottle recycling program and creating the occasional park doesn't cut it in our increasingly eco-concerned world. The buzzword now is "green" and each city in order to compete for workers, investment and tourists had better have a full compliment of eco-programs and environmental plans. Pollution and dirty air are longer acceptable byproducts of living in a city. Those cities that can provide their citizens with clean air, clean water and a healthy environment are proving to more competitive and desirable places in which to visit and live.

While the US federal government has refused to sign onto the international Kyoto Protocol and has steadfastly refused to recognize the issue of global warming, a growing chorus of economists, environmentalists and scientists are beginning to sound ever-increasingly dire alarm bells. In response, many cities have taken the initiative to address environmental concerns in their jurisdictions without federal support. Innovative urban planning, green building, park construction, public transportation initiatives and recycling programs are now making many American cities much healthier and better places to live.

Smaller cities have distinct advantages over their larger counterparts. While they have less revenue with which to implement specific initiatives they also have fewer infrastructure costs and often fewer urban issues like crime and poverty.

Many reviews of "Green-ness" are released each year and the usual suspects of Portland, Oregon; Bellingham, Washington; Oakland, California and Austin, Texas are regularly listed among the most environmentally progressive cities in the United States.

Portland is usually held up as an example of how committed and sustained political will can change the environment and livability of a city. In the 1970s, city politicians turned against conventional wisdom and instituted changes and programs that transformed the city from an example of poor planning and urban blight into a paradigm of environmental sustainability and eco friendliness. Green spaces, restriction of suburban development, use of sustainable energy sources and encouragement of environmentally friendly businesses are all examples of Portland's green leadership.

Smaller centres such as Burlington, Vermont and Madison, Wisconsin have used community-based programs to tackle issues such as pollution, clean ups and recycling programs with significant success. People at the grassroots level do want better environments and in some cases have put their money where there mouths are. Boulder, Colorado for example voted on raising local taxes in order to secure more green space and preserve wild areas within city boundaries.

Larger cities have made significant inroads in recent years. Under the guidance of Mayor Richard Daley, Chicago has been one of the most audacious in attempts to make the city more environmentally friendly. Planting more than 400,000 trees, encouraging solar powered buildings and subsidizing energy saving renovations for historic buildings have moved the windy city to the forefront of the urban environmental movement.

A number of US communities are doing a great job at putting their residents first and are inventing novel ways of ensuring clean air and clean water, finding renewable energy, running environmentally-friendly public transportation systems, creating parks and greenbelts, and enabling opportunities for community involvement.

The shift from global to local responses to global issues has taken root in American cities and bodes well for all our futures.

About the author: Kevin Fields is the Editor of a site dedicated to demographic data, statistical analysis and features on US cities.

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