Five Green Cities and What Australia Can Learn From Them


While Australia is home to the world’s most liveable city, Melbourne, and Adelaide, Sydney and Perth also make the top 10, the question of how liveable our cities will be in the future depends most importantly on how sustainable they are. Looking around the world, a list of the five greenest cities don’t contain any Australian destinations. But the most sustainable cities overseas could give us some pointers on how to improve our own environmental credentials and keep our cities liveable well into the future. Let’s take a look and see what we can pick up.

Vancouver, Canada

A frequent appearance in the World’s Most Liveable list (and current number 3), Vancouver in British Columbia is among the world’s greenest cities. Attitude is everything, and the people of Vancouver have long recognised the importance of the natural world, with the first incarnation of Greenpeace having strong ties to the city.

With upwards of 90% of the city’s energy coming from renewable sources, predominantly hydroelectricity, Vancouverites are in a unique position to employ low emissions transport. They are home to one of the few electrified bus systems in the world, and with the comparatively mild weather, cycling is a hugely popular way to get around. This is made much easier for residents by the existence of an extensive bike path network throughout the city, connecting all the suburbs with the CBD, as well as the beaches. They also have world-class building codes, insisting all new developments be carbon neutral.

Tips for Australia: While we don’t have the access to hydroelectricity that Vancouver does, we could certainly move away from coal as our main source of electricity to reduce carbon emissions. And encouraging cyclists by improving bike access and connectivity can only be a positive step.

San Francisco, USA

San Francisco in California is home of the Sierra club, an organisation sworn to preserve the natural world founded in the 19th century. But in modern times, San Fran still manages to impress with green awareness and activism. The city’s participation in recycling programs is 77%, the highest rate in any North American city. Approximately a fifth of the area of the city is dedicated to green open space, which helps keep it cool, as well as having social benefits for the residents.

San Francisco is also the electric vehicle capital of the United States, with a fleet of electric taxis, and over 6000 electric or hybrid electric cars in the city. With plans for almost 3000 public charging stations, the local air pollution will be greatly reduced. The city had already decided not to be held hostage to cars, removing the Embarcadero freeway from its waterfront starting in 1991, opening up the space for pedestrians, cyclists and other alternative transport options.

Tips for Australia: While we probably won’t get the earthquake that spurred a freeway removal, reducing reliance on major roads and replacing them with alternatives can have benefits for any city. The use of electric vehicles is a step towards cleaner air in the city, but obviously would be even better if the source of energy was a low emissions option.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Consistently rated Europe’s greenest city, a great deal of the low emissions rating of Copenhagen can be attributed to the highly developed public transport system, where the majority of residents live within 350m of a public transport route, and over half the city uses bicycles for their regular commuting needs. That’s not surprising when you consider that Denmark contains over 10,000km of cycle paths in total. It’s also encouraged by the government, who have closed roads to favour bike use in the city. The city has recently introduced a green roofs policy to ensure that rooftops are utilised as spaces to grow vegetation, and reduce heat loss in the cold winters. The city has also embarked on a program of “pocket parks” designed to ensure nobody in the city lives further than 15 minutes from a green open space.

Tips for Australia: Some pressure might be needed to close roads in favour of cyclists, but the benefits are clear in both the health of the people, and the reduced congestion on the remaining roads. Green roofs also have a great deal of potential in Australia, reducing heat gained by buildings in our hot summers.

Oslo, Norway

The Norwegian city of Oslo stands out from most westernised cities in that much of the central area is reserved as public parks, waterways, forest and even agricultural land. This alone makes it a candidate for being a sustainable metropolis, but add to this their technological innovations, such as biomethane to power public transport and provide about 80% of the city’s heating requirements, and power-saving street lights that adjust to weather, traffic and light conditions, and they are certainly not resting on their laurels. The city also boasts an extensive electric car-share program, and all electric vehicles have access to public transport lanes, with immunity from tolls – and the benefit of free parking!

Tips for Australia: Looking for ways to re-use or re-purpose waste products has huge potential for reducing demands on existing energy sources in all cities. Administrative benefits like toll-free electric cars are also a great way to encourage sustainable practices in the city’s residents.

Curitiba, Brazil

Brazil makes environmental news usually for negative aspects, such as forest clearing, but the city of Curitiba has been aiming since the 1970s to improve their environmental credentials. A fast and efficient public transport system has been copied by other cities due to its success and careful design of development, including tax incentives to developers for green designs, has pushed Curitiba into the number one sustainable city in South America. Incentives for residents to recycle include rewards such as transport tokens and fresh produce for collecting recyclable items from their rubbish.

Tips for Australia: Incentive scheme for developers and careful planning are applicable to any city, and the rewards for recyclables is a great way to encourage recycling habits.

Australia, clean and green

With a little bit of imagination and some inspiration from sustainable cities around the world, we can start seeing our environmental impact in Australian cities as a challenge, and begin finding solutions instead of focussing on problems. Vegetation, cycling, recycling, green wedges, incentives and great public transport will improve the liveability of any city, particularly into the future. If sustainability and corporate responsibility is important to you, compare energy providers today and find the greenest, cleanest available power in your state.


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