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Sustainable In The City

Bicyclists travel with traffic down Broadway Street in Portland, Ore.
I’m an East Coast guy. Not that it’s any excuse for ignorance about the rest of this great country, but the West Coast is just so far away, you know? So excuse me, Northwesterners, when I say I always assumed Portland was on the ocean. The Portland with which I’m familiar, in Maine, IS on the ocean, so I guess I just transferred the attribute to that other Portland too. But come to find out, it ain’t. It’s 80 or something miles from the beach. The so-called Land of Ports doesn’t even have any (unless you count those along the Willamette and Columbia rivers). “What’s up with that?” I asked myself (as I’m sure you are now). “Where do they get off?”

But it’s OK. As it turns out, Portland, Oregon, is only so named as a tribute to the one in Maine. It could’ve been anywhere. Well that makes sense. I feel better.

What’s all this nonsense about Portland got to do with living green in the city you ask? Everything, I say! Or, actually, says SustainLane Media, which once again ranked the city No. 1 on its urban sustainability list. “Urban sustainability” may sound like kind of an amorphous concept, but SustainLane, “the web's largest people-powered guide to sustainable living,” aims to pin it down with its annual rankings. They take a scientific approach to determine what exactly defines a sustainable city, basing their findings on 16 categories, including air and water quality, land and energy use, and mass transit.

But I wanted to know just what role high-rises might play in the sustainability of a city.

“Tightly integrated vertical development clusters people and destinations into small areas, which makes for very walkable, centered, connected and dense neighborhoods which have mixed uses/destinations,” SustainLane CEO James Elsen explained. “Denser development makes building transit lines practical and economical and having transit in place allows for higher density development to fill in around transit lines.”

But, Elsen pointed out, “It is important for city planning departments not only to approve of taller development, but to make sure that buildings can be creatively used and re-used for varied purposes.”

And what about high-rise inhabitants (yes you, my dear Captivate watchers!); what can they do to help?

“Simply by living in high-rises such as in San Francisco, New York and Vancouver, residents have already decreased their annual carbon footprints,” Elsen explained. “Living together in honey comb-like buildings means more shared walls, and thus less energy needed to heat/cool space. In addition, more ground level space is made available for parks and other uses, instead being covered up by low-rise sprawl.”

As for specific actions, Elsen stresses taking advantage of those little spaces that you might normally overlook – at least if you live in a high-rise. You’re probably not among the advantaged few who has this luxury at the office:

“Occupants with even a few feet of balcony can grow a few potatoes in a planter box,” he says, “and install a small rain barrel for watering.”

And if you really want to get self-sufficient (and maybe a little stinky), Elsen adds, “On many high-rise balconies in Asia it is not uncommon to find chickens and roosters kept for food.”

Captivate Network can be found in 10 of SustainLane’s top 13 “Front-runner” cities and in only two of the bottom 13 “Trailing” cities. Hmmm. Perhaps there’s a 17th category SustainLane missed: How Captivate screens positively affect urban sustainability. Here’s a list of categories that were topped by Captivate cities:

City Commuting – led by Washington, D.C., this category covers things like public transit use and percentage of people who walk or bike to work or carpool.

Energy & Climate Change – led by San Francisco, this category includes numbers on greenhouse gas emissions and use of renewable energy and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Local Food & Agriculture – led by Minneapolis, this covers how much residents rely on locally grown crops.

Metro Ridership – led by New York City, this drills down into the nitty gritty of which regions depend on public transport.

Planning & Land Use – NYC is again on top in this category, which analyzes things like park percentage per total city land area, sprawl and how much pedestrian and bike access is available.

Waste Management – San Fran finds itself atop this category for diverting more than 60% of its landfill waste through recycling, green waste and composting programs.

Water Supply – Chicago leads in the water category, based on factors such as distance from primary source of untreated drinking water, dependence of water on snowpack, level of drought or other conflict, and consumption rate.

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“Sustainable In The City”