America’s greenest cities

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Here we run down America’s cities that score highest in each category of’s 10 Things That Make a Great Green City.

The environment is an ever-increasing consideration for travellers. And that got us thinking. Which U.S. cities boast the best eco-credentials?

Here we run down America’s cities that score highest in each category of’s 10 Things That Make a Great Green City.

(In the eyes of many, San Francisco is the overall greenest city in the U.S. Featured image by David Paul Ohmer)

Crissy Field, Golden Gate National Park
Crissy Field, Golden Gate National Park. Photo: -Marlith-

1) Plentiful parks

As the old adage goes, parks are the “Lungs of the City”.

San Francisco is ranked number one in ParkScore, a comprehensive rating system measuring whether or not the country’s 40 largest cities are meeting their need for parks.

Portland bus - America's greenest cities
Portland’s streets are organized for buses and cyclists. Photo: Ian Sane

2) Efficient and comprehensive public transport

Per passenger journey, mass transit systems are proven to be less damaging to the environment than cars.

Portland (Oregon) came top of the public transport and pedestrian friendliness category in Travel + Leisure magazine’s 2012 reader survey.

Bryant Park - America's greenest cities
Bryant Park was the top ranked of New York’s 10 entries. Photo: Ed Yourdon

3) Quality public space

Outside places providing safe hangouts away from roads not only encourage folk to travel on foot, but also reduce the need for energy-hungry large enclosed communal spaces.

New York has the largest number entries (10) on’s list of the Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S. and Canada.

Nice Ride - America's greenest cities
Nice Ride, the Twin Cities’ public bike sharing system. Photo: JimFenton

4) Bike lanes

More bike riding equals less traffic. The most bike-friendly cities look after their cyclists with dedicated lanes, parking and bike sharing programmes.

With its “120 miles of on and off-street bicycle facilities, plus indoor bike parking and other cycling-friendly facilities”, Minneapolis (Minnesota) comes top of Bicycling Magazine’s list of America’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities.

White House - America's greenest cities
Efficiency begins at home, now matter where you live. Photo: HarshLight

5) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

Eco-conscious developments and renovations are a highly visible symbol of a city’s commitment to going green.

The District of Columbia, home to the capital Washington D.C., has the highest environmentally friendly designed building space per resident of all U.S. States.

Recycle bins - SF America greenest cities
Recycling and composting is enshrined in San Fran’s by-laws. Photo: Franco Folini

6) Comprehensive recycling and composting programmes

Recycling is the quintessential individual eco-act. The greenest cities facilitate and support their citizens’ efforts with large-scale programmes.

“In 2009 San Francisco recycled 72 per cent of its waste, already far ahead of any city in the US and Canada”, according to a comprehensive report by the Economic Intelligence Unit.

Sacramento alley - America's greenest cities
Not all alleyways are made equal. Photo: Monica’s Dad

7) Mixed-Use and Infill Development

Recycling of existing space reduces sprawl and enhances people’s experience of the land that’s already in use. Planning for mixed use space and developing (or “filling”) otherwise unused spaces are key components of that recycling process.

Sacramento (CA [California]) has won plaudits for its Alley Activation infill programme.

Michael Bloomberg - America's greenest cities
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Photo: ImagineCup

8) Green leadership

Whether it’s a grand scheme directed from a mayor’s office, or a grass roots initiative, making a city greener requires innovative and strong-willed leadership.

New York’s Michael Bloomberg was named the most green-leaning mayor in the country by environmental news site Grist for his ambitious 127-point initiative called PlanNYC 2030.

UT Austin America's greenest cities
Austin – solar city. Photo: Kumar Appaiah

9) Renewable energy use and efficiency measures

Drawing from renewable energy sources and aggressively reducing energy use are two ways a city can vastly reduce its own environmental impact.

Austin (Texas) is “the nation’s top seller of renewable energy” according to the Mother Nature Network.

Farmers market Oakland - America's greenest cities
Going green can be fun. Photo: avrene

10) Green lifestyle

Access to products and services such as farmer’s markets, organic restaurant food, eco-conscious music festivals and ecologically-oriented art all put the fun into going green.

Oakland (California) is rated highly by Mother Nature Network for its abundance of fresh, locally sourced organic food.

Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…

America’s greenest cities was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Brett Ackroyd
Author: Brett Ackroyd (631 posts)

Brett hopes to one day reach the shores of far-flung Tristan da Cunha, the most remote of all the inhabited archipelagos on Earth…as to what he’ll do when he gets there, he hasn’t a clue. Over the last 10 years, London, New York, Cape Town and Pondicherry have all proudly been referred to as home. Now it’s Copenhagen’s turn, where he lends his travel expertise to