10 March 2008

America’s 50 Greenest Cities (and Salt Lake made the list!)

Last month Popular Science ranked all US cities over 100,000 people. The intent was to highlight those cities who are 'anxiously engaged' rather than waiting to be compelled by the Federal Government. Coming in at #36 is Salt Lake City, Utah; just ahead of Pasadena, California and just behind Kansas City, Missouri.

#36 Salt Lake City, Utah - 13.5
Electricity – 3.6
Transportation – 4.1
Green Living – 2.3
Recycling/Perspective – 3.5

"In everything from emissions control to environmental stewardship, cities across the country are far ahead of the federal government, and they’re achieving their successes with ready-made technology." (source) Three of the top seven cities are in the Bay Area of California. Additionally, three of the top eight cities are in the Pacific Northwest. About half of the Top 50 cities are in the Western US.

Looking at Salt Lake’s scores as a percentage tells us Salt Lake is scoring weakest in the area of Renewable Energy sources and strongest in recycling and environmental awareness.
Electricity – 3.6/10.0 = .36
Transportation – 4.1/10.0 = .41
Green Living – 2.3/5.0 = .46
Recycling/Perspective – 3.5/5.0 = .70

Scoring was lumped into four broad categories:
Electricity (E; 10 points): Cities score points for drawing their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, as well as for offering incentives for residents to invest in their own power sources, like roof-mounted solar panels.
Transportation (T; 10 points): High scores go to cities whose commuters take public transportation or carpool. Air quality also plays a role.
Green living (G; 5 points): Cities earn points for the number of buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, as well as for devoting area to green space, such as public parks and nature preserves.
Recycling and green perspective (R; 5 points): This measures how comprehensive a city’s recycling program is (if the city collects old electronics, for example) and how important its citizens consider environmental issues.

Other cities of interest scoring a perfect score in the main categories:
Electricity – Eugene, OR 10.0
Transportation – New York, NY 10.0
Green Living – Chicago, IL 5.0
Recycling/Perspective – Lexington, KY 5.0


FoxyJ said...

Did any other cities in Utah make the list? Because Salt Lake has the lowest proportion of Mormons in Utah. Is it the Mormons that make it more green or the lack thereof?

I'm honestly just curious, because one thing I didn't like about living in a more Mormon dominated city in Utah was the lack of environmental awareness. I don't know if it has to do with Mormonism or just a general "western" cultural ethic.

green mormon architect said...

Hi FoxyJ,
Interesting thoughts. Salt Lake was the only city from Utah. You are right – SLC is about 180,000, and if less than half are LDS, and half of those are ‘active’, we’re only talking about something like 40,000 LDS. So religion probably does play a role, which is surprising to me with the strong environmental ethic the Church was founded on.

Interestingly enough, Arizona which has quite a large population – much larger than Utah, and a high percentage of LDS, had no cities on the list; same with Nevada and Idaho. In the southern US (also very religiously charged) – Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia similarly did not have any cities on the list. With the Catholics, Baptists, and Evangelicals coming out this week in support of global warming, it will be interesting what affect this has on their congregations.

Mellifera said...

SLC's green status has everything to do with Mayor Rocky Anderson, and therefore everything to do with the church... as in, he did it because his constituency thought it would piss the Mormons off.

Ok, to be fair, I'm sure they love the earth too. : ) But it's definitely the democrats in Salt Lake who are behind the green movement, and not the LDS membership. I'm sure they're not opposed to it, they just didn't start the ball rolling by any means.

Also to be fair, I went to a lecture by Rocky Anderson about his environmental policies. I was not terribly impressed. In a large part SLC's green policy boils down to "we told local businesses to recycle, which they do anyway because it's good publicity, and switched all the traffic lights to LEDs." Their downtown public transportation is quite good, but that's more a countywide/regional initiative than SLC itself, and given how capably it serves church sites I would suspect the Brethren were involved in the planning.

Ok... I'm rambling now, but. My favorite moment of the Q&A session was "Mayor Anderson, Salt Lake has sold off the SUVs in its city fleet because of the pollution and bought ethanol-fueled vehicles instead. (This was when we still thought ethanol was a Good Idea.) How nice. So, where did the SUVs go? Are they STILL IN SALT LAKE by any chance?" He didn't really have an answer for that one. So anyway, my feeling on SLC's environmental ethic is it's really more feel-goody boosterism than anything else; mostly Rocky just picked off the low-hanging fruit so the next guy will actually have to work at it to make a difference, and therefore will look bad in comparison.

Disclaimer: Bill Buhler is an uncle-in-law. : )

Mellifera said...

Addendum to SLC's feel-goody boosterism: Not that that makes SLC's environmental initiative any less deep than the other cities. Oh dear. What if everyone starts thinking they live in Green Cities when in fact nothing has really changed? How distressing.

green mormon architect said...

That’s a really good point, and I had a similar concern prior to posting. I certainly wouldn’t want people to get complacent if their city made the list, but at the same time, until the Federal government gets involved and certain things are required, setting benchmarks and recognizing cities for the efforts they have taken is worthwhile since it shows areas where improvement is needed. Obviously, those four cities who aced certain categories, hopefully they don’t just sit back thinking they can’t do any more. If I had set up the rankings, I wouldn’t have given any city a perfect score in any category.