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Blogs 'n' Stuff on SustainLane US City Rankings

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January 22, 2007


Blair Cohen

I am a college student in Colorado and I must say it is cool to see Denver and other cities taken such positive steps towards being more green. Have any of you seen these cities or others that are creating complete sustainability plans that the average person can get excited about? One of my profs just showed me a link to a really cool sustainability plan for Marin County in California. I know they didn't make the top 10 rankings here but their plan posted on their website ( looks pretty comprehensive and is obviously done in a way to let everyone understand what they are doing (they actually had a 700 page PDF file but now they have this web tool).

Warren Karlenzig


Yes Marin County has a great general plan that has incorporated major sustainability elements throughout it, particularly in green building. Distributed renewable energy plans are next for this Northern California County. You can read abstarcts of elements of that plan on under "sustainability management". The most fully developed sustainability plans are those of Seattle, Chicago, Portland and San Francisco, with Denver being well on its way with Greenprint Denver New York is also putting a plan into motion through the the mayor's office and some advisory groups that will be holding meetings in neighborhoods for input. I helped put together the SF sustainability plan ten years ago, along with a couple hundred other people from the city, businesses, NGOs, etc. That was adopted by the city after 18 months of work


I live in Portland, it's a great city. Our air however not that good. I'm regularly choking in diesel fumes from the buses. Buildings here are not preserved, they are torn down and the Willamette river is still very polluted.

Warren Karlenzig


Thanks for writing. Our ranking compared cities relative to one another. In that regard, Portland did have the second best average air quality index of the largest 50 US cities when compared to the others (first was Honolulu, with the air quality advantage of being on an island). That doesn't mean that there isn't air pollution or room for improvement--particularly at the level of bus exhaust fumes on city streets. As for building preservation--which we did not measure--The Pearl District in particular seems to have kept its historic integrity. Finally, on water quality, you're right, the Willamette is very polluted. We did not compare levels of water pollution as they vary in terms of what you can measure (rivers, ocean water, lakes), when you measure (season) and what you are measuring for. That could however be a good additional metric for our future studies.


I live in Portland, Oregon. I love this city but I don't love our air. Terrible toxic smells waft through my lovely neighborhood on a regular basis. I wonder what aspect of our air quality (what kinds of air pollutants) you have considered for evaluation. There was an article yesterday (2/4/07) in the Oregonian that revealed some parts of the city (e.g. downtown) have 50 times the safe level of benzine in the air. Oregon has poor gasoline and diesel fuel quality standards and that, along with other problems, means we end up breathing some pretty toxic air. It makes me deeply sad.

Warren Karlenzig


You're right--every city has its share of air pollution, and it can vary according to type of pollutant, neighborhood, street and even time of day.

Overall, though, Portland does have some of the best overall air quality for a US city. Compared to the other cities out of the 50 largest in the US, Portland ranked number 2 (after Honolulu) in 2005. We based this ranking on data from the US EPA that measures five major pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates (soot, etc.), nitrogen dioxides and ground-level ozone (smog).

Portland's overall average Air Quality Index was the second lowest of 50 cities (the lower it is, the cleaner the air), and it had no violations of the Clean Air Act in any of the five pollutant categories during 2005.

That said, Benzene, a component of all gasoline, is a major air pollution health concern that will soon be more regulated more strictly by the EPA by 2011. The Northwest and Rocky Mountain states will soon be getting gasoline to match the reformulated gasoline with lower benzene levels that is already in use in places like California, Chicago and the Northeast.


Jaasmeen Hamed

I am a college student researching cities within the US that have green zoning standards. Would you please help me locate this information?


How exactly are you coming to these rankings?

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