America's Greenest Cities 2012
San Francisco has a nationwide reputation for sustainable dining, but that’s not enough for many of its restaurants, which go to extra lengths to demonstrate their green practices.
“I’ve been handed a two-page printout, detailing how a particular fish came to be on my table,” says Michael McColl, the Bay Area founder of Ecotourism-Newswire.com.
Such attention to detail helps explain how San Francisco secured its spot among the top 10 of America’s Greenest Cities, according to the Travel + Leisure community. As part of the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 metropolitan areas on a variety of travel-friendly qualities, from hotels to local microbrews and good wireless coverage.
To determine the greenest cities, we tallied the results from three survey categories: cleanliness, pedestrian-friendliness and public transit, and great public parks, which offset that urban asphalt and improve air quality. The high-ranking cities support other green initiatives that benefit travelers as well as locals: in Denver, the Brown Palace Hotel uses water from its own artesian well. Minneapolis offers cheap, easy-access bike rentals.
Then there’s Portland, OR, rated America’s No. 1 greenest city, where every day feels like Earth Day. One fourth of the city is shaded by tree canopy, and the ground itself features 288 parks. The Heathman Hotel, near light-rail and streetcar stops, completed a green overhaul and now even recycles “gently used” soap and shampoos, having them treated before sending them to area shelters.
Other American cities, of course, are eco-friendly in ways that aren’t always readily obvious. In a Siemens 2011 study that measured CO2 emissions, land use, air quality, and environmental governance, San Francisco came out on top—the city currently recycles 78 percent of its waste—and New York City ranked in the top 3 for its efficient land use and mass transit.
The Big Apple, however, didn’t crack the top 20 with Travel + Leisure voters, who were perhaps distracted by a rude welcome or subway stations in need of a good scrubbing. To be fair, the survey is based on readers’ perceptions, which can be skewed, and may not take into account recent improvements like New York’s expanding bike lanes and the High Line, a former rail track converted into an extraordinary park.
So which did make the green grade with T+L’s community? Read on for America’s greenest cities—and share your opinions in the comments below.
No. 20 Philadelphia
The city ranks well for its museums, and the new home of the renowned Barnes Foundation art collection is a green feather in the city’s cap as it may be earning a Platinum LEED certification. Otherwise, folks here may define “green” as loving the Eagles—after all, Philadelphia ranked first for its sports-crazed locals. Happily, the NFL team is returning the favor, having recently announced that its stadium will soon be completely solar-powered.
No. 19 Nashville
Does belting out a great cover song count as recycling? You may need to get off the tourist grid to find concrete ways that the city is going green. The Gulch is the first neighborhood in the South to receive a “LEED for Neighborhood Development” certification for embracing historic buildings and public transportation—not to mention its organic grocery store, the Turnip Truck. Aside from the live music, voters also applauded Nashville’s warm civic pride.
No. 17 San Juan, P.R.
The Puerto Rico city has locavore panache: thanks to its homegrown cuisine, San Juan won both the ethnic food and street food categories. To shop like the locals, check out the monthly farmers’ market—featuring local produce, artisanal bread, and the island city’s highly ranked coffee—tucked away on the third floor at Plaza Las Américas.
No. 17 Salt Lake City
Voters love the city’s clean feeling as well as its affordability, but only gave it so-so rankings for being walkable and park-friendly. Visitors who have bemoaned the spartan bar scene may want to check out Squatter’s Pub and Brewery, the home of several award-winning microbrews, which also boasts of 100 percent compostable to-go containers as well as waterless urinals in the loo.
No. 16 Austin, TX
It’s the birthplace of organic grocer Whole Foods, and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was built with 100 percent recycled steel, so why didn’t the Texas capital rank higher for being green? Perhaps because it scored near the bottom of the survey for its lackluster mass transit; you still see plenty of gas-guzzling pickup trucks on the roads. But one of the best local attractions is Barton Springs, within the sprawling green space of Zilker Park.
No. 15 Providence, RI
In this town known for its theater and gallery scene, being green is almost an art form. In the West Broadway area, check out the Fertile Underground Grocery, a popular co-op run by artists who began growing fruits and vegetables in vacant city lots. Not that you have to limit yourself to veggies here: the city ranked in the top 3 for both pizza and burgers.
No. 14 Washington, D.C.
Cynics may say that the city’s hot air counts as a sustainable fuel. But our nation’s capital made the top 20 most likely for its stellar mass transit system as well as the walkable Mall. Sunday is the best day to make the most of nine-mile-long Rock Creek Park, when the main arteries are closed off to cars for the sake of cyclists and pedestrians. On other days, you can always go hug a tree at the U.S. National Arboretum.
No. 13 Charleston, SC
Reuse never looked so civilized: the quaint Southern City ranks in the top 5 for both its antique stores and flea markets. Even its green spaces have a pedigree: Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place are the nation’s oldest public and landscaped gardens. Voters’ favorite times to come here were spring break and Valentine’s Day.
No. 12 Honolulu
Come to Hawaii, which relies heavily on imported fuel, and you’ll quickly see the motivation for being environmentally efficient: locals regularly pay the highest gas prices in the U.S. That’s one reason why hotels such as the Sheraton Waikiki and The Royal Hawaiian have installed electric charging vehicle stations. Voters would perhaps rather stroll through the green tropical paradise: the city ranked No. 2 for weather and No. 4 for romance.
No. 11 Boston
The brainy locals have a long history of reusing: the Boston Municipal Library, now on Copley Square, is the oldest public library in the nation. You can explore the city using the no-carbon-footprint Freedom Trail, or by taking a bike tour with Urban AdvenTours, whose delivery bus runs on vegetable oil.
No. 10 Santa Fe
There’s not much that feels mass-produced (or dangerous, for that matter) in this southwestern city: it ranked first with readers for its cultural vibes, indie boutiques, and peace and quiet. Its new LEED-certified convention center was built, in large part, using recycled materials from the old building. Voters also applauded the locals for being both quirky and diverse.
No. 9 San Francisco
The Bay Area’s great restaurants embraced local, organic eating long before it was cool, but the city’s commitment to the environment goes beyond its highly ranked dining or even its mass transit system. The city composts 600 tons of scraps every day and has a goal of 100 percent recycling by 2020. The Silver LEED–certified AT&T Park—the first solar-powered Major League Baseball stadium—even offers eco-friendly concessions at the super-energy-efficient Green Garlic Fries.
No. 8 San Diego
The top city for weather may be more famous for its beaches, but San Diego claims more farms per capita than any other county in the nation, making it a locavore’s delight. Voters also dug the easy access to the sand and surf and were perhaps willing to overlook the traffic-clogged freeways. To drive green while you’re here, rent electric cars from Car2Go downtown for as little as 35 cents a minute, or no more than $66 a day.
No. 7 Portland, ME
Between the farm-to-table restaurants, homegrown microbrews, and all that lobster, you can literally taste the great outdoors here. A few popular restaurants, such as Miyake or 20 Milk Street at the Regency Hotel, even have their own farms. Voters preferred Portland in the summer over any other city in the survey—the ideal time to fish, enjoy the parks, or stroll the Old Port area.
No. 6 Seattle
In the No. 1 city for smart and tech-savvy locals, recycling isn’t just a passion—it’s the law for both households and businesses. Many local hotels take green practices one step further, whether it’s composting table scraps or offering free parking for guests driving hybrids. The Hyatt at Olive 8, near South Lake Union, earned LEED certification for features such as having the electricity automatically shut off when you’re not in your room. Meanwhile, you might score discounts on the top-ranked local coffee if you present the barista with your own refillable cup.
No. 5 Chicago
The Windy City came in first place for its cool architecture—but the greenest view of the buildings may be from above. Chicago has more energy-efficient “green roofs” than any other U.S. city, including lush, planted roofs on Soldier Field, O’Hare International Airport, and City Hall. You can even buy honey from the City Hall’s rooftop beehives at the year-round Downtown Farmstand. Voters, meanwhile, may have preferred another homegrown delicacy: they ranked the decadent pizza at No. 1.
No. 4 Denver
The Mile High City got high marks from voters for embracing nature: the outdoorsy residents ranked as the most athletic in the survey, and the city also ranked as the best place to vacation with your pet. You can keep up with the sporty locals and cut your fuel use by using the city’s B-Cycle program, where you can rent bicycles for just $8 a day; there are pickup and drop-off locations all over the city.
No. 3 Minneapolis/St. Paul
Who cares about winter? With 46 miles of city bikeways and 84 miles of off-street paths, Minneapolis is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, with a thriving community of people who bicycle to work year-round. If you’d rather stay inside, check out one of the many “green” restaurants, such as the Red Stag Supper Club, known for both its Slow Food Sundays and for being the first U.S. restaurant illuminated entirely by LED lights.
No. 2 Savannah, GA
The winner in the parks category is old-school green, famous for its quaint, walkable streets and its 22 tree-lined squares, which date back to 1733. That relaxed, healthy atmosphere has apparently rubbed off on everyone else, too: the locals ranked near the top of the survey for being friendly, and the city won the category for romance.
No. 1 Portland, OR
Portland literally has you covered with green space: one fourth of the city is shaded by tree canopy, and the ground itself features 288 parks—including the world’s smallest dedicated park, the 24-inch-long Mill Ends Park. Portland also ranked at the top of the survey for its mass transit and near the top for its groovy, offbeat locals, known for their DIY spirit and cycling culture.