Earth Day 2014: Green Cities

Austin, Texas, is the first city in the world to have built a citywide smart electric grid. (Photo: StandUPP/Flickr)


For better or worse, it’s an interesting time to be on the planet. Around the world we are seeing massive shifts in population from rural to urban areas: By 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city. This presents great challenges to our environment and infrastructure, but also great opportunities.

Recognizing the importance of our urban areas, the Earth Day Network chose “Green Cities” as the theme of this year’s Earth Day. In the US, cities are shaping up to be the most innovative proving grounds for green ideas. Whether it’s Chicago’s green infrastructure programs, Austin’s smart grid or Portland’s bike networks, there's no shortage of great ideas coming from our cities.

EarthShare members are on the ground in cities around the country and the world to help roll out these innovations. We’ve gathered some of the most promising developments below. Share them with your neighbors and the leaders in your community!



Cities Go Water Smart (EarthShare) -- We need to be smarter about our precious water supply in the coming years. Many cities are already getting a jump start on smart water solutions and their work provides models for other places dealing with water challenges.

What is Green Infrastructure? (American Rivers) -- Green infrastructure is an approach to water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle.

How Sprawl Affects Our Water Resources (American Rivers) -- The most important thing local governments can do is to promote cluster development to leave large areas of native vegetation and small streams intact. 



The Economic Benefits of Bicycling (EarthShare) -- Bikes may be simple machines, but don't let that fool you: the growth in bicycling in the US is an economic powerhouse.

A Streetcar Named Revival (EarthShare) -- Streetcars, once a common sight in cities across the US, vanished in the post-WWII automobile boom. But with a renewed interested in sustainable transportation and the availability of federal grants, many communities are bringing the streetcar back.

U.S. Cities Reinventing Buses as Modern, Efficient, and Effective (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy) -- Los Angeles, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Eugene and Pittsburgh are the nation’s leading cities for high-quality bus rapid transit systems (BRT). BRT combines the flexibility of buses with the speed and priority of light rail, but at a fraction of the cost of rail.



The Future of Garbage: Curbside Compost (EarthShare) -- About 24% of the garbage that Americans throw away is food and yard waste, and most of it ends up in our overflowing landfills. But some cities are turning food waste into valuable compost.

Cities Winning Against Plastic Bag Pollution (EarthShare) -- Plastic bags are bad for the environment because they clog waterways, don’t biodegrade, and can kill animals when they’re mistaken for food. Many cities are putting fees and bans on plastic bags and the results are inspiring.

Mayors from 10 Major Cities Unite to Cut Climate Pollution from Buildings (Natural Resources Defense Council) – The mayors will undertake a united effort to significantly boost energy efficiency in their buildings, a move that combined could cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1 million to 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year.


Climate Change & Energy

Weathering the Storm: Building Resilience (EarthShare) -- While some politicians at the national level still debate the existence of climate change, local leaders are battening down the hatches for an unpredictable future they know is coming.

Earth Hour City Challenge (World Wildlife Fund) -- The Earth Hour City Challenge is a year-long competition among cities to promote renewable energy and prepare for climate change.

Smart grid: Revolutionizing our Energy Future (Environmental Defense Fund) -- Our phones are getting smarter, and so are our cars, appliances and homes. Now it’s time for the electric grid to smarten up, too.

Transform Communities’ Energy Systems (Rocky Mountain Institute) -- By 2050, we need all U.S. communities to have transformed how they use energy in transportation, industry, buildings, and electricity. To achieve this, we need to work with individual communities to create beacons of success and share the models that will enable other communities to follow a similar path.


Green Space

Parks for People (Trust for Public Land) -- For the 80 percent of Americans who live in or near a city, neighborhood parks offer the closest connection to nature. Yet, today there is only 1 park for every 3,000 people in America. The Trust for Public Land was founded to create parks and protect land for people to enjoy.

Urban Forests (American Forests) -- Urban forests are critical to the health and quality of life within our cities. Unfortunately, they are constantly facing challenges such as urban expansion, invasive pests, changing climates and underfunded management and maintenance.

What is Tree City USA? (Arbor Day Foundation) -- The Tree City USA program is a national program that provides the framework for community forestry management for cities and towns across America.


Equity, Jobs & Economic Sustainability

Affordable Green Housing (Natural Resources Defense Council) -- Too often, affordable housing has meant living in drab, institutional buildings located far from jobs, stores and other conveniences. What if instead of using this old, institutional blueprint, affordable developments followed modern, environmentally friendly design principles?

Energy Efficiency and Jobs Impacts in the U.S. Manufacturing Resurgence (World Resources Institute) -- While the future of U.S. manufacturing jobs is uncertain, energy-efficiency and clean-energy investment can help ensure that this sector continues to thrive.

10 Ways to Join the Sharing Economy (Green America) -- What if you could get what you need for free and make some really great friends in the process? That’s the concept behind what even the mainstream media has started to call “the sharing economy”.


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