4 Cities That are Becoming More Sustainable (in the least expected ways)

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In the quest to decrease global warming and carbon emissions, more and more people are making an effort to be sustainable. Many individuals have heard to “turn off the light when not needed”, “use less water”, and “use more alternative transportation”. There are a couple of cities that are taking it a little farther in their efforts to be more sustainable. Here are some cool ways cities are becoming more sustainable:

  1. Urban Canopies and Forests (Palo Alto, Baltimore, Portland, Melbourne)

There is a new climate-change fighting strategy emerging in cities, such as Palo Alto, Baltimore and Portland, called “urban canopy”. In short, this strategy is the increase of trees throughout the city. Not only are the trees providing much needed shade, but they are also improving air quality, and helping to cool the city. City Officials in Melbourne have concluded that increasing their urban canopy could help cool the city by a significant 7 degrees. Trees reflect more solar energy into the atmosphere than asphalt which absorbs a significant percentage, leading to warmer temperatures in concrete sprawls. Trees also help absorb CO2 from the air, decreasing air pollution and helping to offset some of the city’s carbon emissions. Lastly, Yale researchers have discovered that urban forests “foster community engagement and neighborly love”. After all, being near nature makes people feel more connected to nature itself, often increasing their desire to become more sustainable. 



2.  Gondolas as Alternative Transportation (Bolivia, South America)

Steep landscape, narrow streets, and congested roadways make the traditional use of buses or subways harder to implement in many South American cities in the Andes. However, a novel environmentally-friendly alternative is proving effective in Medellin, Colombia; Caracas, Venezuela; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and La Paz and Sucre, Bolivia. Cable-car systems, widely known as Gondolas in the US provide an alternative to ground public transportation. In the past many inhabitants living in the La Paz outskirts were unable to be reached by public transportation as buses were unable to make it up the steep roads. Contrary to buses, the gondolas run on electricity, make a minimum amount of noise, and reduce traffic congestion. Commuters get to look forward to a pleasant ride and a shorter commute (10min instead of 30min). Gondolas have helped decrease traffic congestion, in addition to increasing the reach of public transit.




3. Roof Gardens (Brooklyn, Singapore, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo)

Urban farming is increasing in cities and roof gardens are becoming more widespread. Roof gardens provide many benefits both to residents and the environment. Green roofs provide insulation, create potential wildlife habitats, help control runoff, and take up CO2 from the atmosphere. Using green roofs as gardens and farms helps provide the city’s population with additional sources of local food. Green roofs have the potential of providing residents with job opportunities, a local park to get away from the bustle of city life, or a place to practice gardening. Many cities and buildings could benefit from incorporating a green roof into their infrastructure.



4. Solar Roadways (Netherlands, US)

The Netherlands have recently implemented a solar bike path, SolaRoad. Rows of crystalline silicon solar cells are embedded in concrete and then covered with translucent tempered glass. While the path does not generate as much electricity as solar panels on roofs (due to the position of the sun), it is more beneficial than concrete. Similarly, Solar Roadways in the US is working on creating similar solar pathways. However Solar Roadways is also working to incorporate programmable LEDs in addition to water, heating, and wire conduits in the pathways. The LEDs would allow the blocks of solar panel ground to be implemented anywhere. The pattern displayed by the LEDs would change as needed, meaning they could be used anywhere from playgrounds, to sidewalks, to roads. Solar Roadways could replace a large percentage of asphalt, decreasing carbon emissions and increasing our renewable energy. Although not yet implemented in the US, its potential seems significant.