The African City That Is More Sustainable Than San Francisco
There’s a new list of the world’s most sustainable cities, and not one American metropolis made the top 10.
European cities dominate the Sustainable Cities Index, which ranks the top 50 cities in the world based on their environmental, social, and economic viability. The list is based on factors grouped into three broad categories: “profit,” “people,” and “planet.”
Overall, seven of the top 10 cities that scored the highest on the list are in Europe, with self-proclaimed “Green City” Frankfurt, Germany, holding down first place, thanks to its waste management efforts, climate protection plans, and large city forest. London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam, Netherlands, round out the top five.
The list was released on Monday by Netherlands-based design and engineering firm Arcadis, with an index based on 20 indicators, ranging from income gap to total green space areas.
Boston, the highest ranking of any U.S. city, took 15th place. But it made the grade because of its especially strong showing under profit. When it came to environmental factors such as energy consumption, carbon emissions, and use of green space, Boston and all U.S. cities rated relatively low.
The reason? Energy-hungry cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia get only a small amount of their power from renewable energy. That puts them more in the company of oil-rich Middle Eastern cities such as Dubai, UAE, and Doha, Qatar, than with European cities, which tend to obtain a significant percentage of their electricity from low-carbon sources.
San Francisco ranked No. 1 in North America on Siemens’ 2014 Green City Index but came in at 37 in Arcadis’ planet category. The reasons included frequent natural disasters and continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, beat out the City by the Bay, taking 35th place for environmental factors.
The rankings reveal just how challenging it can be for a big city to stay economically healthy without ruining the environment or making life miserable for residents.
One lesson of the index, according to its authors, is that no ideal city exists.
“Cities face a difficult balancing act between the three pillars of sustainability [planet, people, and profit],” stated Arcadis. “In particular, cities are failing to meet the needs of their people. Across the world, they perform poorest on these factors.”
But “managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century,” John Wilmoth, the director of population programs at the United Nations Division of Economic and Social Affairs, said in a statement.
It has become crucial to figure out how to live sustainably in cities, because this is the first era in human history in which more people live in urban areas than in rural: 54 percent of the world’s population call cities home, and according to the United Nations, that number will continue to grow.