Green Cities: Director’s Cut

Author’s Note: In spite of my best efforts, I occasionally geek out on my reporting. In this case, I dug up way more content about green cities than my editors had space to publish. So I sliced and diced it. Then came the blog, vessel for all good stuff that ever got cut. Here is the longer version of the Green Cities story, salvaged from the cutting room floor.

AUSTIN, TX
POPULATION: 743,074
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 18 million trips taken during the second quarter, 2008.
HOME TO: The nation’s largest utility-sponsored sustainable building program, Austin Energy Green Building.
ALSO HOME TO: Whole Foods HQ.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 18.
LIKES BIKES: According to The League of American Bicyclists—which gives Austin a Silver—almost 4 percent of Austin’s residents bike to work.

In what Austin Mayor Will Winn has called “the most polluting state in the most polluting country on the planet, from a carbon-emissions standpoint,” the straight-talking city chief enacted the Austin Climate Protection Plan, which calls for, among other things: powering city facilities with renewable energy by 2012; requiring new single-family homes to be zero net-energy capable by 2015; and making all municipal facilities and fleets carbon-neutral by 2020. A major player in meeting these targets? Utility company Austin Energy (AE). That recipient of the 2008 EPA Climate Protection Award offers a sweet photovoltaic rebate (up to 75 percent of installation cost). Meanwhile, so many customers recently subscribed to buy clean energy through AE’s GreenChoice program that the company stopped taking applications until 2009. In 2006, AE and the city launched “Plug-In Partners,” a campaign to show automakers that there’s market demand for plug-in hybrid cars now (So get cracking). Austin is also tackling the water crisis, coupling conservation measures with a Water Reclamation Initiative that will provide reclaimed water for non-drinking purposes to several venues, like the University of Texas.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN
POPULATION: 377,392
THE LARGEST URBAN SOLAR ARRAY: In the upper Midwest will be built here, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 2.
LIKES BIKES: The League of American Bicyclists gives Minneapolis a Silver.

Mayor R.T. Rybak aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from city operations 12 percent by 2012 and 20 percent by 2020. And in true Midwestern fashion, residents rolled up their civic shirtsleeves in 2007 and did their part, buying enough wind-generated electricity from Xcel Energy’s Windsource program to power almost 2,800 homes for a year. In this City of Lakes—which planted, on average, 3,385 trees annually from 2003 to 2007—environmental enthusiasm reaps rewards: Minneapolis recently awarded 25 grants to support local organizations’ efforts to motivate Minneapolitans to conserve energy. The University of Minnesota continues to garner accolades for its renewable-resource research, while The Green Institute, which operates a $2 million salvaged building materials ReUse Center, diverts 4,000 tons of building materials annually from landfills. The city also cut 150 vehicles from its fleet since 2003, and those vehicles it is adding will be green: In five years, says the mayor’s office, buses on main thoroughfare Nicollet Mall will be hybrid-electric.

CHICAGO, IL
POPULATION: 2,836,658
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 255.8 million trips taken on Chicago’s CTA during the second quarter, 2008.
ONE OF THE FIRST: U.S. cities to incorporate green strategies in public buildings.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUIDLINGS: 48. That’s more than any other North American city.
LIKES BIKES: In the past 10 years, Chicago’s bike trails have expanded from 50 to 250 miles, helping it earn a Silver from The League of American Bicyclists.

The city that shaped modern American architecture is at it again, with a comprehensive green building agenda that includes Mayor Richard Daley’s far-ranging protocol The Chicago Standard. As one of five U.S. C40 Cities, Chicago recently implemented a program to support the retrofitting of homes and commercial buildings for energy efficiency. The first commercial building to sign up in this City of Broad Shoulders? None other than the gargantuan Merchandise Mart. Chicago’s also known as the City in a Garden (with more than 6,000 tree plantings planned for 2008 ), and it shouts that motto from its rooftops, with more square footage of green roof than anywhere. Although many Chicagoans would happily scrap the current, maligned residential recycling program, a newer “Blue Cart” program is expanding to all 600,000 homes that Streets & Sanitation serves by 2011. Finally, the Chicago Climate Exchange—North America’s only voluntary, legally binding cap and trade program to reduce CO2 —puts a new spin on “futures trading.” The future indeed.


PORTLAND, OR
POPULATION: 550,396
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 51.4 million trips taken during the second quarter, 2008.
FIRST U.S. CITY TO: Adopt a local energy policy—in 1979—which established an Energy Office and citizens’ Energy Commission.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 47.
LIKES BIKES: Portland boasts 270 miles of bikeways, helping make it the first major U.S. city to be honored with The League of American Bicyclists’ Platinum-level status.

Four words: Solar-powered parking meters. But then, Portland’s streetscape is full of eco-bells and whistles: LED traffic signals save enough energy to power over 400 homes annually. Meanwhile, the urban sprawl that’s dogging other cities’ green efforts isn’t an issue in Portland, which instituted an urban growth boundary in 1979 to protect forest and farmland. Led by Mayor Tom Potter, Portland manages growth today with the “2040 Growth Concept,” which encourages efficient land use and preserves nature. Currently, 12 percent of the city’s municipal electricity purchases come from renewable sources—like from the mictro-turbines at Portland’s wastewater treatment plant. Recycling activities here are buttoned up, too, saving the city approximately $2 million annually. And if it’s adopted, a proposed High Performance Green Building Policy, which supports the city’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, would improve the environmental performance of Portland’s buildings, offering incentives and technical assistance. For now, green-minded builders benefit from the Green Investment Fund, which awards annual grants to innovative green building projects.


LOS ANGELES, CA
POPULATION: 3,834,340
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 240 million trips taken on L.A. County MTA during the second quarter, 2008.
FIRST U.S. CITY TO: Incorporate fuel cell vehicles in its municipal fleet for everyday use, according to the mayor’s office.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 24.
LIKES BIKES: Although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is updating the city’s bike plan, The League of American Bicyclists hasn’t named L.A. a bicycle-friendly community.

If L.A. were an athlete, it might win Most Improved Player in these games. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s initiatives aim high, and they’re starting to counter the city’s reputation for sprawl and smog. A C40 City, L.A. has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—the most ambitious reduction target in the nation, according to the mayor’s office. By 2010, L.A. aims to have 20 percent of the city’s energy come from renewable sources. One step in that direction: At its scheduled 2009 launch, The Pine Tree Wind Farm is expected to provide 1.4 percent of L.A.’s energy by way of wind. The Department of Water and Power offers services and rebates to help Angelinos meet the city’s Green Building Standards. L.A. is also confronting a projected 15 percent hike in water demand by 2030 with a 20-year water strategy, which calls for a six-fold increase in water recycling, among other initiatives. With plans to expand flyaway shuttles, the regional rail network, and employee rideshare programs, the city reputed for traffic jams and road rage says it’s putting the focus on “mobility for people, not cars.”


NEW YORK, NY
POPULATION: 8,274,527
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 1.6 billion trips taken on MTA NYC Transit during the second quarter, 2008.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 21.
LIKES BIKES: The League of American Bicyclists gives New York City a Bronze.

Thanks in large part to population density, the average New Yorker consumes less than half the electricity of a San Francisco resident and nearly 1/4 the electricity of someone who lives in Dallas, according to the city. But New York can’t rely on density alone. In April 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a 127-point environmental plan, which includes a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 percent by 2030. Other targets: Plant 1 million trees; clean up “brownfields,” or contaminated land; ensure that all New Yorkers live 10 minutes from a park; and upgrade the city’s energy infrastructure for efficiency. One year later, according to the mayor’s office, the city that never sleeps had launched 118 of its 127 points, including the introduction of regulations to green the city’s taxis. Working with the MTA, Bloomberg also proposed a capital plan that, if funded, would expand transit capacity to facilitate growth and diminish gridlock.


PHILADELPHIA, PA
POPULATION: 1,449,634
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 168.4 million trips taken during the second quarter, 2008.
THE FIRST LARGE U.S. CITY TO: Replace traffic signals with LEDs, in 1999, according to the mayor’s office.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 9.
LIKES BIKES: The League of American Bicyclists hasn’t deemed Philadelphia bike friendly, but in September 2008, the city announced plans to install 1,400 bike racks and explore a possible bikeshare program.

This “City of Firsts” is on track to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions 12.7 percent by 2010. That beats its commitment to the Cities for Climate Protection, which calls for a 10 percent reduction by that time. In fact, 2010 will a big year for Philly: By then, it aims for: a reduction in municipal vehicles’ fuel consumption by 5 percent from 2006; an uptick in residential recycling rates—from 6 to 10 percent; and at least 5 percent of its “general fund” electricity use to come from wind power. Led by Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia is also investing in clean energy: The fast-growing Philadelphia International Airport purchases 12,960 Megawatt Hours of wind energy annually, representing about 8 percent of its overall annual electricity needs. In a town that introduced America to its first botanical garden in 1728, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is keeping that botany-loving legacy alive, calling its “Philadelphia Green” program—which develops and cares for community gardens, parks and green spaces—the most comprehensive urban greening initiative in the U.S.


SEATTLE, WA
POPULATION: 594,210
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 60.6 million trips taken with King County DOT during the second quarter, 2008.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 46.
THE FIRST U.S. UTILITY: To provide zero net emission electricity to customers. Seattle City Light’s energy portfolio is made up almost entirely of clean and renewable resources.
LIKES BIKES: For the city’s estimated 6,000 daily bike commuters, Seattle recently added miles of bike lanes, but The League of American Bicyclists hasn’t yet deemed it bike-friendly.

Since Mayor Greg Nickels launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2005, more than 800 mayors have signed on—agreeing to meet targets from international climate protection agreement Kyoto Protocol in their own communities. At the 2007 U.S. Conference of Mayors, the ever-agitating Nickels upped the ante, introducing a resolution that embraces a bolder national goal: 80 percent emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. It was passed unanimously. In 2005, Seattle itself had produced about 8 percent fewer emissions than in 1990, with measures in place to keep improving: A Green Fleet Plan has citywide fuel use down 12 percent from 1999. Since 2000, the city’s Green Building Program has expanded beyond new buildings, assessing energy usage in existing buildings to determine areas for efficiency improvement. Currently, Seattleites can buy green power through Seattle City Light’s “Green Up” program. That utility company’s conservation efforts—like giving away efficient showerheads and faucet aerators—reduced the electric system load by 11 percent in 2006, enough to power 115,000 homes.


SAN FRANCISCO, CA
POPULATION: 764,976
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 107.7 million trips taken on Muni RWY during the second quarter, 2008. Next up (eventually): Transbay Terminal, a new transit center scheduled for 2014.
FIRST OF ITS KIND: The San Francisco Carbon Fund, a city-based carbon offset program, which, when implemented, will fund local projects that contribute to San Francisco’s environmental health.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 23.
LIKES BIKES: With the highest percentage of residents who bike to work among U.S. cities of 500,000 or above, San Francisco gets Gold from The League of American Bicyclists.

According to Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco of the future will render concepts like “clean air transportation” and “green building” meaningless, since all transportation will be clean, and all buildings green. Municipal goals include: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2010; planting 25,000 new trees by 2012; and ensuring that all new commercial and residential buildings eventually achieve LEED Gold. Aiming to reach recycling rates of 75 percent by 2010—and zero waste by 2020 (Really. As in zilch.)—San Francisco’s recycling rate so far sits at 69 percent. Recently, the city reported that it’s delivered $32 million of energy efficiency programs. Those include: A city fleet with 1,500 diesel vehicles powered by biodiesel and the nation’s largest municipal solar-incentive program, providing up to $6,000 for residential solar installations, and up to $10,000 for businesses.


BOSTON, MA
POPULATION: 599,351
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 183.7 million trips taken during the second quarter, 2007, the earliest year for which data are available for Boston.
HOME TO: The first airport terminal in the world to achieve LEED-certified status: Terminal A in Boston’s Logan Airport.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 21.
LIKES BIKES: The League of American Bicyclists hasn’t deemed Boston a bicycle-friendly community, but Mayor Thomas Menino plans to make Beantown better for biking, with new bike lanes and racks in the works.

Boston’s target: To reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Toward that end, the city recently increased its renewable energy supply from 8.6 percent to 11.7 percent. In fact, Boston is the largest municipal purchaser of green electricity and biodiesel in New England. With a $2 million grant from the Mass Renewable Energy Trust, a Green Affordable Housing Program supports construction that’s not just green but priced within reach. And though Beantown cabbies crabbed at him about it, Menino recently announced that by 2015, Boston taxies must be fully hybrid. For now, more than a million people daily travel via Boston’s T, according to the MBTA, which is also working on a wicked-cool project to develop a model for locomotive engine pollution-control devices.

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