Ecofriendly is good business
Who’s the greenest of them all? Is it Chicago’s Richard Daley, the cycling mayor whose City Hall roof is festooned with flowers, wild onions, and beehives? Or New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who turned over two traffic lanes on Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, to pedestrians and cyclists? Or perhaps it’s San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who planted an organic garden in front of City Hall?Skip to next paragraph
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Mayor Daley doesn’t mince words: He wants Chicago to be the greenest city in the United States. Mayor Bloomberg aims to “create the first environmentally sustainable 21st-century city.” Mayor Newsom goes even further: His “San Francisco of the future” will be “a place where words like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ are meaningless, because it will simply be understood that any action includes best practices for the environment.”
The race is on to be the country’s greenest city, and it’s much more than a beauty contest. Huge pots of federal money are at stake for public transit and pedestrian-friendly downtowns. And the winners also attract waves of young professionals – the coveted “creative class” – and the businesses that employ them.
College grads are picking where they want to live before they pick an employer, according to a 2006 study commissioned by CEOs For Cities, a Chicago-based nonprofit. Professionals in the 25-to-34 age group said they wanted cities with walkable downtowns that offered direct contact with a vibrant urban environment.
“I want to be able to stumble onto the fun,” says one study participant.
“Younger folks are looking for cities where they can lead an active life,” says Tom Radulovich of the San Francisco nonprofit Livable City. “The suburban notion of ‘drive to the gym’ doesn’t work for them. They want to be able to walk out their front door and shoot hoops in the neighborhood park, or find nearby trails and bike paths to jog or cycle.”
Chicago, of all places, is emerging as one of the leading green cities. Even with bike-unfriendly weather much of the year Chicago is rated one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country by the League of American Bicyclists. Earlier this year the city snared $153 million in federal money for a program to beef up public transit and cut downtown gridlock. (New York City lost its bid for that same money when a similar program was rejected by the state legislature. Both San Francisco and Seattle received grants.)
After waiting two years for a prototype green building to be approved by his building department, Mayor Daley crafted a law to fast-track the permit process for energy-efficient buildings. The 220-square-mile city currently boasts no fewer than 555 parks. New York’s green program aims to have every city resident live within a 10-minute walk of a neighborhood park by 2030. Chicago is close to reaching that goal already.
Leading green cities in other parts of the world have been pulled along by strong, charismatic leaders: Ken Livingstone in London, Enrique Penalosa in Bogotá, Colombia. In the US, there’s more input from advocacy groups, such as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and