Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century

By Eugenie L. Birch; Susan M. Wachter | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Taking the Initiative: Why Cities Are
Greening Now

TOM DANIELS

Nearly 40 years ago, the federal government began to put into place a series of laws designed to improve the nation’s environmental quality. At the time, almost two-thirds of America’s waterways were not fit for swimming or drinking. Smog from cars and factories clouded cities with a brownish haze. Tens of thousands of former industrial sites sat abandoned, containing unknown levels of hazardous substances. Mass transit systems were falling apart. Cities—especially in the Northeast—were seen as the hostile, rusting, graying remains of a rapidly passing industrial era. The suburbs presented a healthier, greener, and safer place to live.

Why have cities only recently seen an upsurge in “greening”—from green roofs to new parks to tree planting to more energy efficient buses—despite the fact that sweeping federal environmental legislation was enacted more than 30 years ago? Quite simply, city leaders are recognizing that a cleaner environment is needed both to provide residents with a good quality of life and to compete in the global economy. America’s manufacturing-based economy of the twentieth century has been transformed into a service-based knowledge economy. For the information age economy, environmental quality is a major economic asset. Skilled workers are increasingly footloose, able to settle just about anywhere there is broadband Internet access, and they are drawn to healthy, aesthetically pleasing environments. Moreover, green cities are demonstrating that the alleged trade-off between jobs and the environment is a false dichotomy. A quality environment produces jobs; a polluted environment costs jobs.

A green city enables a choice of transportation options, areas in which to enjoy recreational activities, and opportunities for social interaction on the street and in public spaces. And there are indications that living

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