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Cities across the nation are quickly becoming places where sustainable history will be made. American cities are starting to develop into smarter cities, and the results are extremely positive. Smart Cities are defined as cities that combine information and technology to make a more efficient and sustainable city. Major cities abroad have mastered this, and the U.S. is finally catching up. Here are 10 of the smartest cities in America and what they are doing to climb to the top of the sustainable survival chain.

1. New York


New York is very well known for its massive buildings, loud streets, and smoggy air. However, what many people do not know about New York is that it is considered the most sustainable city in America. Back when New York was first created, builders had limited space on the island so they built up, not out. This meant that they were unintentionally designing a walkable, dense city that has the flexibility for green space. This, in the long run, actually helped make this city the most sustainable city in the nation. Because more people can fit into the city with less space, there is more room for greenery and less time used for travel between destinations.

Not only is its density working in its favor, but so is its public transportation systems. The most vivid image that comes to mind when thinking of New York is the traffic crowding its streets. However, its subway and bus system are considered some of the best in the country. The New York subway system is used more than almost all other transportation systems in the world, but it is in serious need of repairs. The good news is the city is finally working towards improving their transportation systems even more, as stated in the Move NY Fair Plan program introduced earlier this year. This plan is expected to make over $1.35 billion a year by tolling more where traffic is heavier, as well as through other taxing initiatives, to improve the transportation systems. This money will also help increase the availability of more sustainable transportation, like bike routes, more bus routes, and more subway stops.

The city also released a plan called PlaNYC back on earth day in 2007 that is aimed to help clean up abandoned industrial sites and reduce the city’s carbon emissions overall.

2. San Francisco


San Francisco is focusing on a very unique type of sustainability involving Eco-Districts. Eco-Districts are small scale neighborhoods that create a sense of community, stimulate the local economy, and promote sustainability. San Francisco is focusing on four different types of Eco-Districts that all involve mixed land use, as well as the incorporation of local businesses. This way, the city will seem less disjointed and more community driven when smaller-scale living areas are provided. The sustainability aspect, however, is also an extremely important part of these districts. When local businesses are utilized, less transportation, and therefore, less fossil fuels are needed to get to the resources people need. A positive attitude and responsibility towards others and the environment is also promoted when a sense of community is created in a smaller space.

The city is also focusing on “Living Roofs,” which is the process of making use of roof space by turning it into green space. The City and Council of San Francisco says that “up to 30% of the City’s total land area [is] composed of rooftops,” which means there is a large amount of potential to use this area to create green roofs. The benefits of Living Roofs is that it reduces runoff and limits the heat that can enter the building. The roofs also help keep the building warm in colder months, and can even be used as rooftop gardens.

3. Sacramento


According to the Sacramento Bee, in March 2015, The Sacramento City Council voted in favor of allowing mini farms on private property and in vacant lots. This means that the produce grown on these lots, which are limited to 3 acres, can be sold at local farmers markets. There are even tax incentives for those who give up their vacant lots to become a mini farm. The interesting thing is that urban farm stands created on vacant lots have no time or day restrictions, which means there is more opportunity for those who do not have a grocery store nearby to get fresh produce. Mini farms are popping up all around Sacramento and creating a healthier, more multi-use living space for residents.

Another unique aspect of Sacramento’s sustainability initiative is that it includes a climate adaptation plan. Instead of planning for a world where the same amount of energy and resources are used as they are today, Sacramento is determined to adapt to the future where resources will be limited. They plan to conserve water by designating watering days and watering times for different addresses. They also provide suggestions on how to weather your home to reduce energy costs and energy use in the future.

4. Nashville


Nashville is a quickly growing city. To offset this rapid population growth, they have implemented a plan called nMotion2016 that looks at population grown and makes changes to the systems of the city based upon it. This is extremely innovative because they are already planning for the expected growth in population.

This city is not only adapting to the changes expected to happen in the future, but they’re creating a sustainable living environment for the present, as well. According to their city’s webpage, Nashville is also implementing a plan called WalknBike, which is a program that improves sidewalks and bike lanes to encourage people to commute sustainably. By making the roads safer, people will be more inclined to choose a more sustainable form of transportation.

5. Austin


The City of Austin launched a sustainability app called “Rethink.” This app makes sustainability into a game, and encourages users to rethink their habits and compete with friends to be the most sustainable. This is something not many places in the U.S. have thought of to promote city-wide. However, Austin used the most popular mobile trends to promote sustainability in a new and creative way.

They have also set up a scale for reducing personal carbon emissions. The sustainable initiatives are split into beginner, intermediate, and advanced actions, as described by the City of Austin’s official webpage. They split up the actions to make them more manageable for the average citizen, and they range from using a reusable water bottle to becoming a vegan. This way, people do not feel like they have to complete all of the actions, but are encouraged to participate with leveled incentives along the way.

6. Washington, D.C.


Washington, D.C. has been ranked again and again as the city with the best public transportation in the country. According to a DNA Info article, the average commute for DC transit users is 36 minutes, which is significantly less than other major cities in the U.S., like New York. The city is currently repairing the metro lines to make them run smoother, which will, in turn, increase their use. The most convenient part of the system is that the places you cannot reach with the metro, you can reach through the bus lines. This makes it much easier for people to use the transportation system more often, given that it goes exactly where they need to go.

What’s a little more unique about this city is how they revamped their police cars. They installed anti-idling technology to reduce the emissions released by police cars when still or in use. According to Sustainable DC, idling was reduced by 60% in police cars after the first phase of the technology was introduced.

7. Seattle


Something interesting brewing in Seattle’s latest sustainability initiatives is the fact that they are now de-paving the roads. As described on the city’s Sustainable Seattle webpage, sustainable groups in Seattle are de-paving asphalt and other impermeable materials and replacing them with permeable pavers to help reduce pollution from runoff.

Seattle is also focusing on greening their buildings and homes. According to their city’s website, they increased their LEED rated buildings by 179% from 2009-2013, and 70% of the waste from single family homes was recycled in 2012. They’re also looking to increase the use of renewable energy, and are continuing to improve even more in the areas they already thrive in, like green certification and recycling.

8. Portland


The city is known for holding “Fix-It Fairs,” where people go to learn more about how to improve their home’s efficiency, as well as bring in broken appliances and have them fixed. Having a fair where people can get appliances repaired helps show people that you do not always have to replace things when they are broken. They may be easily repaired, and when this happens, you save money and resources that would have been used to make the new item.

The city webpage also provides a link for how to “Green your Business.” It provides tips for companies and employees alike on how to turn your business, no matter what type of business, into a greener one.

9. Denver


Denver is extremely focused on making their transportation more sustainable. They just recently had a pop-up bike lane set up on Broadway, one of their main streets, to show the possibilities of sustainable transport in their city. They even created a bridge over the highway I-25 for pedestrians and cyclists to use.

Even Denver’s air transport has become more sustainable. The Denver International Airport, DEN, was one of the first airports to be certified by the Airport Carbon Accreditation program for the amount of carbon they reduce through the use of renewable energy resources.

10. Minneapolis


Minneapolis was named the number one most bike friendly city in the U.S. This ranking means that their roads are bike friendly, their bike lanes are usable and safe, and the community around biking culture is positive. This city has one of the largest amount of commuters, given that the roads and bike lanes are well taken care of.

The city also has a Clean Energy Partnership between Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy to help the city come up with new ideas for energy efficiency and conservation. This is the first partnership of its kind.

There are many ways cities across the U.S. can improve their sustainability. However, many cities are already setting a positive example and paving the way for a better, brighter future. By taking ideas that worked in European cities and bringing them to America, sustainable practices can spread more easily across the country.

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