Vying for Position: The World’s Most Sustainable Cities

Curitiba, Brazil widely regarded as the world's first and largest experiment in sustainable urbanism.

Curitiba, Brazil widely regarded as the world’s first and largest experiment in sustainable urbanism.

There exist various lists, or indexes (pl. indices), identifying which cities around the globe are considered to be “greenest” according to each index’ author.

Sustainable City Indices are essentially ratings or if you will rankings of which cities are the greenest i.e. the most sustainable. The subject of which city can claim to be the greenest is extremely topical, with very many cities all over the world vying for pole position, or at least to make the top ten, if not in the world, at least within their particular nation. Such elbowing for position is understandable if for no other reason than to attract, for any given claimant, its fair share of available eco-tourism dollars.

I think it can be argued that having greenest city status also confers intrinsic value to its inhabitants and by extension, to the global ecology.  For example Curitiba, Brazil by it’s sustainable bootstrapping efforts in the 1960’s may truly deserve recognition as the world’s very first authentically green city. Certainly it’s inhabitant’s know that, and that is what they teach their children, and so the core values of sustainability, made manifest in the cities urban planning of the 1960’s is handed down and deepened in each succeeding generation.

But if we search for consensus if this city is green, or not green, or greener or less green than it’s rival city we will find it difficult to find consensus or common ground. Firstly, given the inevitable jockeying for dollars accruing to the title – whether for ecotourism dollars, or the best place to hold an international conference, or for attracting skilled and educated immigrants – it is often difficult to find truly objective rankings.

More fundamentally of course, there exists no universally agreed-upon definition for what a sustainable city should be, nor any completely agreed-upon paradigm for what components should be included in such an evaluation. Of all the Indices out there, I can refer you to three. None of these, of course, almost by definition, is completely without bias.

IESE Cities in Motion Report
The annual IESE Cities in Motion Report is published jointly by the Center for Globalization and Strategy and the Department of Strategy of the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra, Spain. It examines cities through 10 what it calls “dimensions” or indicators: Governance, Urban Planning, Public Management, Technology, The Environment, International Outreach, Social Cohesion, Mobility and Transportation, Human Capital, and The Economy.

The Green City Index
The Green City Index series is conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and sponsored by Siemens, and the last version of this was published in 2012. Its intention was to create a unique tool that helps cities benchmark their performance and share best practices. The Green City Index series uses approximately 30 indicators across eight to nine categories depending on the region. These include: CO2 emissions, energy, buildings, land use, transport, water and sanitation, waste management, air quality and environmental governance. About half of the indicators in each Index are quantitative – usually data from official public sources, for example, CO2 emissions per capita, water consumption per capita, recycling rates and air pollutant concentrations. The remainder are qualitative assessments of the city’s environmental policies – for example, the city’s commitment to sourcing more renewable energy, traffic-congestion-reduction policies and air quality codes.

The Arcadis Index
The ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index (SCI) is a composite index of urban sustainable development. It uses data from reputable sources including the United Nations, World Bank, World Health Organization, and International Labor Organization.

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Content published by Daniel Silvernail Architect, Inc. © 2015 all rights reserved.

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