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Thread: Top Ten Sustainable U.S. Cities

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    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Top Ten Sustainable U.S. Cities

    There was a great article posted on Planetizen today at: http://www.planetizen.com/news/redirect.php?id=16931 on sustainable U.S. cities. In overall rankings, San Francisco and Portland were neck and neck in the top two, followed by Berkeley and Seattle. Not surprisingly, New York ranked highest among east coast cities in no small part due to it's well used transit system.

    San Francisco was notable for it's 67% level of waste diversion (not sure I know exactly what that means.)

    Portland was #1 in both air and water quality, and #2 in the number of LEED certified buildings.

    There's a couple of five minute videos about San Francisco and Portland, featuring mayors Gavin Newsome and Tom Potter, respectively, you can download here: http://www.sustainlane.com/index.php

    Pittsburgh stood out by being #1 in farmer's market's, which the article points out have been growing rapidly in recent years all over the country.

    Philadelphia also did well in terms of farmer's markets.

    Boston stood out by being #1 in transportation.

    The great lakes provide good quality drinking water to both Chicago and Detroit.

    I wasn't surprised Portland did as well as it did, and it sure makes me feel good about my decision to move there in January. I didn't take much time to study the methodology, but the idea about cities competing to be leaders in sustainability is I think very healthy. IMO, people are more rootless today than at any time in U.S. history, largely because we've placed a premium on job mobility. Increasingly, people's lifestyles mirror the a-local nature of corporations. Instead of letting where you want to live, determine who and where you will work, too often people let their desire for a higher paying job, dictate where they end up living. When we think of cities with the most rapidly growing economies, we often forget that the factors which fuel that growth tend to sacrifice long-term sustainability for short-term appeal. Case in point: Las Vegas. Those who avoid bankrupting themselves through gambling may not be able to stave off thirst or starvation once their oil lifeline is severed leaving the city the desolate wasteland it always was.

    If you don't see your city in the rankings, don't worry because SustainLane plans on expanding them to include the top 50 U.S. cities next year.

    For those of you who live among the cities that were ranked, or found the article interesting, what do you think? We're you surprised, dissapointed or just reassured? I'm curious as to people's thoughts, opinions and insights on this.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

  2. #2
    jimi_d's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dobopoq
    Boston stood out by being #1 in transportation.
    That's not the impression I'd got from www.badtransit.com. Besides, I'd've thought NYC would have beaten Boston on this.

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    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Only one comment so far? You planners don't care about sustainability? Have you heard of "Collapse", by Jared Diamond.

    Apparently, an "If you built it, people will use it mentality", rules. Aside from the effects of social isolation, non-sustainability is the cornerstone of any criticism of sprawl on environmental, and economic grounds. The opposite of sprawl are cities planned and developed to be sustainable.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

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    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dobopoq
    Only one comment so far? You planners don't care about sustainability? Have you heard of "Collapse", by Jared Diamond.

    Apparently, an "If you built it, people will use it mentality", rules. Aside from the effects of social isolation, non-sustainability is the cornerstone of any criticism of sprawl on environmental, and economic grounds. The opposite of sprawl are cities planned and developed to be sustainable.
    Local Politician: "Sustainability?.. I can barely say that word, let along expect my constituants to know what it means. Now, say it with me.. TAX DOLLARS, TAX DOLLARS, TAX DOLLARS. I'll do whatever it takes to get a prospect in my district. You, planner, do whatever it takes to make it legal."

    The areas where we should be practicing sustainability seem to be slow growth areas. Any development regardless of its costs are often seen as good planning. The high-growth communities, especially exurbs, are so out of control with growth that implementation of a controlled growth plan or the like is a pipe dream. Generalizations, these are.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Good luck sustaining yourselves without fresh water kids! I would not expect Detroit to be tops on the list, but the bottom??

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    Cyburbian
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    Query--How do we reconcile sustainability with housing affordability. Sure good for San fran but a Planner (by example) would have a very difficult go living there...

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Bump from PLANetizen forum.

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    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan
    Bump from PLANetizen forum.
    Off topic:
    Say what? Are you or someone trying to spurn interest in this thread? I was dissapointed at the lack of response. I'll take it as an opportunity to pump a bit more life into it.

    I'll add that I would think even vulnerability to natural disasters should factor into the concept of sustainability. A place like New Orleans isn't very sustainable given its geographical location. But then San Fran is coastal and very vulnerable to earth quakes. Portland has considerable earthquake risk too.

    BTW, here's an updated link to the site:http://www.sustainlane.com/cityindex/citypage/ranking/
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

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    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Wow, now I see there's been a whole ton of these bumps from PLANetizen threads. What's up with this Dan, or anyone? What does it mean? Have they been rejected, reborn or merely regurgitated?

    Oh, now I see the explanation here:http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=19869
    Thanks, Dan.
    Last edited by dobopoq; 24 Sep 2005 at 2:28 AM.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    A few comments from The Bear.....

    I would agree with DetroitPlanner's comments about water availability. It appears that the survey looks more at water quality, but not availability. So many southwest cities are already in water trouble.....and as the parade of newbies march toward their boundaries, it will get worse.

    Even though not on the publlished list, a town like Toledo, OH, would score well on the air quality index. A primary reason is that the older, more pollution-intense factories, have all closed. The few new factories being built are much better at being environmentally-friendly.

    Many of the places with higher ratings are newer and fast-growing communities. Their industry will be newer and spew less dark smoke.

    In reviewing the Minneapolis data I noticed that they finished mid-range for "transportation". Seems like one (1) of the most congested places I have ever been to.....very auto-dependent. A new light-rail (Hiawatha Line) is just a tiny improvement to public transit.

    Also, any city leader (such as Mayor) who actively pursues alternate-fuel vehicles, etc. in the municipal fleet is WALKING the TALK.

    Bear
    Occupy Cyburbia!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian safege's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Bear Up North
    A few comments from The Bear.....

    I would agree with DetroitPlanner's comments about water availability. It appears that the survey looks more at water quality, but not availability. So many southwest cities are already in water trouble.....and as the parade of newbies march toward their boundaries, it will get worse.

    Even though not on the publlished list, a town like Toledo, OH, would score well on the air quality index. A primary reason is that the older, more pollution-intense factories, have all closed. The few new factories being built are much better at being environmentally-friendly.

    Many of the places with higher ratings are newer and fast-growing communities. Their industry will be newer and spew less dark smoke.

    In reviewing the Minneapolis data I noticed that they finished mid-range for "transportation". Seems like one (1) of the most congested places I have ever been to.....very auto-dependent. A new light-rail (Hiawatha Line) is just a tiny improvement to public transit.

    Also, any city leader (such as Mayor) who actively pursues alternate-fuel vehicles, etc. in the municipal fleet is WALKING the TALK.

    Bear
    Minneapolis has enabled sprawl by accident or by design. Hwy 100 was described as the highway to nowhere when it was built seemingly too far out (sounds familiar), and is now part of a beltway of fourlanes around the metro. A secondary beltway is rejected out of hand since the arterial streets can provide good workarounds. This is a blessing, and a curse since a bus route placed anywhere in the metro area can expect about the same ridership and still not deliver commuters where they need to go. Adding light rail to this uni-density is both very popular, and quite puzzling.

    Express bus routes are doing well despite the repeated budget cuts delivered by a small group of anti-transit legislators. The problem with express routes is that because the return trips are lengthy, and empty, they have a higher subsidy attached to them.

    All in all, two things have to happen. Re-densifcation with quite ordinary transit, for the time being, and express routes built on transportation corridors as proposed by the Metropolitan Council (who are often ignored because the members are appointed by whoever the Governor may be - plannerous interuptus).

    We did get Commuter Rail passed and funded, this will be the first line so I hope that the freight lines can put up with us. Good relations, and good manners are a must.

    On the topic of the list, I think Mpls/St.Paul should be lower for the reasons expressed above. New York should be higher, I agree with that. Seattle should be lower since new transit modes are so costly to integrate, and since the current bus drivers have the highest wage and benefits package in the nation (last I chaecked).

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner
    Good luck sustaining yourselves without fresh water kids! I would not expect Detroit to be tops on the list, but the bottom??
    I just read the more specifics on this:

    Hmm so a 3 million square foot leed factory and a leed utilty company HQ does not cut it?

    The Detroit region as been in attainment for air quality conformity for over a decade. We do have a PM 2.5 problem, but that is spot specific to a steel mill on the River, and a coal fired electrical plant in Monroe.

    We have a great Markets (notably Eastern Market) and surrounded by many fertile fields (although these are moving further out as the region expands)

    We do have a great transportation system, if you don't want to use a bus. Unfortuantely, transit is not supported well by the voters because everyone has their own vehicle. There a bike paths all over the metropolitan area.

    Solid waste, I agree, but due to NAFTA we are stuck with all of Toronto's garbage!

    In terms of zoning and land use, I've seen much worse places.. but zoning does not necessarilly take care of the abandonment.
    Last edited by DetroitPlanner; 26 Sep 2005 at 3:15 PM.

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    Cyburbian
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    Sustainability is becoming much more important in planning fields. It is no suprise to me that the list turned out the way it did. sustainability basically comes down to knowing how your community functions. Where does your food come from, where do your wastes go, water & air quailty, etc. The more these types of things are considered, the more local impact they have on people which results in a movement towards substainability. I think farmers markets are the best example of sustainability. They keep money in the local economy, they educate consumers about food sources, they built relationships with growers, and make a community better. The more profitable the local farms are, the more likely they are to remain as farms which preserves open space, reduces storm runoff, etc.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cololi
    I think farmers markets are the best example of sustainability. They keep money in the local economy, they educate consumers about food sources, they built relationships with growers, and make a community better. The more profitable the local farms are, the more likely they are to remain as farms which preserves open space, reduces storm runoff, etc.
    Amen brother! Now if we can only find a crop that produces more income than the one time harvest of McMansions, then move onto the next field...

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    Cirrus's avatar
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    New York is so far ahead of any other city in the not car dependent category that any list which does not rank New York first merits an immediate dismissal as totally invalid.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    New York is so far ahead of any other city in the not car dependent category that any list which does not rank New York first merits an immediate dismissal as totally invalid.
    New York ranked two in transportation (I wonder who is one? Chicago?) and recieved poor marks for air quality and leed buildings. I don't think that LEED buildings should be given as much weight as say water quality, ease of produce to markets, garbage, or air quality. I'm glad to see someone else has some problems with this ranking.

    In addition, how can San Fran, Berkley and Oakland all be in the top ten? This is essentially one city! I wonder if the included San Jose, would it drag the others down? It seems painfully obvious most of these folks are parochial, and living on San Fran Bay!

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    Quote Originally posted by jimi_d
    That's not the impression I'd got from THE BADTRANSIT WEBSITE . Besides, I'd've thought NYC would have beaten Boston on this.
    (I had to remove the URL from the quote since I can't post it until I have 5 posts under my belt.)

    Boston's public transit system certainly has problems, but it does get people around and allows many people do live car-free or car-light.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    New York is so far ahead of any other city in the not car dependent category that any list which does not rank New York first merits an immediate dismissal as totally invalid.
    I wouldn't say "so far ahead."

    Percent of carless households in 2000:

    1 New York city, New York 55.7%
    2 Newark city, New Jersey 44.17%
    3 Washington city, District of Columbia 36.93%
    4 Baltimore city, Maryland 35.89%
    5 Philadelphia city, Pennsylvania 35.74%
    6 Boston city, Massachusetts 34.91%
    7 Buffalo city, New York 31.42%

  19. #19
    Cirrus's avatar
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    I would.

    First of all just measuring carless households is not the end of the discussion. Not all households with cars are created equal. But even if that were a completely valid measurement of car dependency look at it! There's almost a 20% drop between New York and any other city outside the New York metro area. Washington, the next highest city, would have to increase its number of carless households by over 50% to match New York.

    New York just functions on a whole different level than any other city in the country.

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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I think that things will get worse for Detroit before they get any better. Several factors such as the cities reliance on the automobile industry and heavy manufacturing jobs, lack of development support from the current governor, and the overall perception of the city it’s self will only prevent Detroit’s sustainability.

    I think that as long as the public sector has control, the City will not prosper. I think that a combination of private interest groups will need to come together and act as a Detroit MSA Development Corporation to create things such as a comprehensive light rail system, attracting knowledge base companies, bike paths, and improved police services.

    The framework for a potently great city is available, but until a serious shift in who controls the city happens, it will continue to be at the bottom of the ‘good lists’
    Invest in the things today, that provide the returns tomorrow.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    I think that things will get worse for Detroit before they get any better. Several factors such as the cities reliance on the automobile industry and heavy manufacturing jobs, lack of development support from the current governor, and the overall perception of the city it’s self will only prevent Detroit’s sustainability.

    I think that as long as the public sector has control, the City will not prosper. I think that a combination of private interest groups will need to come together and act as a Detroit MSA Development Corporation to create things such as a comprehensive light rail system, attracting knowledge base companies, bike paths, and improved police services.

    The framework for a potently great city is available, but until a serious shift in who controls the city happens, it will continue to be at the bottom of the ‘good lists’
    City and Suburbs? Working together? In Michigan?? Thats it, I'm doomed. Ya got any openings in the 'zoo?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Trail Nazi's avatar
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    Great to see Philly on that llst. On the other hand, Jax should have never been compared since it is such a great example of sprawl.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Bear Up North
    ...Also, any city leader (such as Mayor) who actively pursues alternate-fuel vehicles, etc. in the municipal fleet is WALKING the TALK.

    Bear
    Speaking of walking the talk, or er, riding the talk, I was pleased to find that Portland's new mayor Tom Potter, actually rode in the February Critical Mass group bike ride. Sadly, I had heard there has been quite a few run-ins between CMers and police in the last few years, so this news was a relief. If the mayor has rode in it, the police ought to be more chill now.

    I often see city vehicles like buses and golf-cart like buggies, that tout that they are hybrid or electric, stenciled on them.

    Bittersweetly, I guess it's comes as some consolation to the many rustbelt towns that the decline of heavy industry has improved air quality.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    I wouldn't say "so far ahead."

    Percent of carless households in 2000:

    1 New York city, New York 55.7%
    2 Newark city, New Jersey 44.17%
    3 Washington city, District of Columbia 36.93%
    4 Baltimore city, Maryland 35.89%
    5 Philadelphia city, Pennsylvania 35.74%
    6 Boston city, Massachusetts 34.91%
    7 Buffalo city, New York 31.42%
    Was anyone else surprised to see Buffalo in this list? Washington/Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia are closer to Buffalo than they are to New York/Newark.

  25. #25
    Quote Originally posted by MennoJoshua
    Was anyone else surprised to see Buffalo in this list? Washington/Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia are closer to Buffalo than they are to New York/Newark.

    Buffalo is still a relatively dense city, It is a poor city and it is a city with a large college student population. Those factors could boost it up on this list.

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