Great news out of Hamburg, Germany! The city officials have released plans to "go green" converting main motor vehicle byways to pedestrian zones (Fußgangerzone) and bike zones. This will connect the city in not only a more beautiful and natural way, but also in a way they hope will help adjust their city's rising temperature (up 9 degrees in the last 100 years -- and for the nay-sayers, yes, they still have cold harsh winters, and if you want to understand global warming better check out this post). If they have problems with "roadkill" like many other vehicular-laden cities of the world, this is also likely to decrease the animal deaths and restore habitats otherwise cut off from their food sources by massive highways and speeding cars (you've probably heard of the very famous Autobahn). Decreasing high motor-traffic in dense zones will also improve air quality by lessening gas emissions that cause smog and nasty pollution that we otherwise breathe. Hopefully less motor vehicles will also mean less traffic, making for a drastic difference not only in the air of the city center but also on a more global scale (as we must recall, we are all connected)! Once again, Germans are leading the way not only in research and innovation but also in implementation! Great work, Hamburgers!
It would be unfair, though to say the Germans were actually first to have and implement these green ideals. Years ago I recall learning about a city in Brazil that was aiming to do JUST that. I remember the mayor or governor saying something to the affect of "some people are in denial or are against the idea, but like anything, most of us just don't like the change part...once it's done...they'll come around." The city was called "Curitiba" and while wondering if it ever fulfilled its promise, I needed do nothing more than put "Brazilian green city" in a search to have it pop up with thousands of hits. I guess it worked! The mayor I remembered seeing in the video years ago was Jaime ("Jamie") Lerner, an urban planner, who believed that cities could be the solution to problems instead of the cause of them. Since the 70s, Curitiba has gone from being below the average Brazilian income per capita to being 60%+ above it.
How did Curitiba do it? A number of things, almost all associated with sustainability, in fact. One of the amazing things is that they made it not only environmentally sustainable by increasing their parks, planting over one million trees and creating legislation to protect the environment, but they also made their city socially sustainable! They take environmental sustainability so seriously, that they created means for their economically deprived to better themselves and their financial situations by helping environmentally; bus fares and food can be bought in exchange for recyclables and waste. This keeps the city clean AND fed. In fact, an entire garden is completely maintained by children who live on the streets. They have also introduced a university specializing in sustainable development at a low fee to encourage citizens to become educated in the phenomenon that has made Curitiba the great city it continues to become, and even takes older buses and makes them into schools on wheels to teach the community in their perspective areas.
It didn't happen overnight, and, as Mayor Lerner said, 'sometimes change isn't easy,' but it's WORKING. Which means that with some good people, positive energy, and desire to better a city...ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! I'd have to say my Green Cities winner would be Curitiba. Not only have they strived to make themselves better, but they have also reached out to the world in multiple venues including a 2007 conference with leaders from around the globe to encourage them to make changes in their own cities to have a global effect. When 99% of your citizens want to live there, and 70% of citizens of NEIGHBORING cities do too...you're doing something right! Let's take the example of daring to change for the better into consideration. The best part? You don't have to be the "guinea pig" because we already have proof that it works!
In case you want some more examples of cities "pushing the envelope," you can see some more examples here!