4 Urban Sustainability Projects You’ve Never Heard Of


Property Management Analyst, Software Advice

Cities across the globe, some long known for their sustainability efforts and others far lesser known, are coming up with some innovative strategies to become global leaders in sustainability and high-performance facilities. New cities are being built from the ground up with a design focus on state-of-the-art environmental efficiency, while others are investing in full-fledged makeovers.

Whether addressing a trash crisis or upping the ante on efficient public transit systems, these changes are being led by everyone from government officials to frustrated residents and even guerrilla gardening groups. Here are four cities with unique sustainability efforts–and what these creative efforts entail.

Songdo, South Korea

Literally a brand spankin’ new city, Songdo is an aerotropolis built atop South Korean swampland 40 miles from Seoul and seven miles from Incheon International airport. As part of President Lee Myung-bak’s 38-billion dollar stimulus package encouraging green and low-carbon growth, Songdo is the first city in the world to have all of its facilities meet or exceed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) requirements.

Perhaps more impressive are the city’s contents, which includes the Northeast Asia Trade Tower (the tallest building in the country) and 40-percent open space, encompassing a 100-acre Central Park.

Medellin, Colombia

Though Medellin was recently awarded the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award alongside San Francisco by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, many people have an impression of Medellin (and Colombia in general) as a hostile and volatile drug cartel environment.

However, Medellin has made incredible advancements in their public transportation options, as well as linked its poorest neighborhood, Comuna 13, to its city center via a 1,300 foot escalator. Medellin’s former mayor, Alonso Salazar Jaramillo, credits the escalator for dwindling crime rates in the historically violent neighborhood.

Additionally, Medellin has implemented several public transit options that are freshening its streets–things like ridesharing programs, a public bicycle program, vehicle exhaust emission control and sulphur content improvements. While these may be common components in most major cities, they represent significant progress for Medellin–once considered the most violent city in the world.

Naples, Italy

Naples has been long buried in toxic garbage–lining alleys, streets, and even surrounding Mount Vesuvius–and often attributed to the Camorra (a Naples-based Mafia organization). But activist groups, residents and international organizations are taking major steps to conquer the problem. Angered residents are taking unbearable circumstances into their own hands by diverting waste, recycling, and beautifying their communities.

A recent article published on Triple Pundit noted that, “Local activism, which takes the form of flash mobs, guerilla gardening, and innovative job creation, is certainly inspiring. But what is occurring in Naples could teach citizens around the world about how apathy from both government and business cannot be deterrents to revitalizing communities.”

And, in September, Vesuvius National Park surrounding Naples will be one of 94 world locations to participate in World Cleanup 2012. CleaNap, a Naples-based organization, will work alongside Let’s Do It World to collectively cleanse the park of litter and industrial and electronic waste.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In a list of the world’s greenest cities, Philadelphia may seem like an outlier. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy declared Philadelphia a “Solar America City,” stating the city displayed “both a compelling need and an important opportunity to accelerate solar application.”

In Mayor Mike Nutter’s 2008 inaugural speech, he vowed to make Philadelphia “the nation’s greenest city.” Currently in its third year of a six-year plan initiated in 2009, Philadelphia is well on its way to achieving many of its initial 14 target goals. These include lowering city government energy consumption by 30 percent, diverting 70 percent of solid waste from area landfills, and doubling the number of skilled green jobs.

Helping the city reach its goals is the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), whose Wayside Energy Storage Project will replace electricity drawn by the subway system with energy captured through regenerative braking, which is then stored in batteries. Wayside, a public-private partnership will curtail electricity use by an estimated 1,500-1,600 megawatt-hours per year.

These cities illustrate a range of approaches to sustainability. They show that change begins at a local level, and that private, public and nonprofit organizations can accelerate that change. Cities like Medellin and Naples prove that any city can achieve sustainability in the face of incredibly challenging circumstances like violence or filth. In a time when environmental consciousness is not only admirable, but necessary, cities like these can pave the way the world over.

What creative ways have you seen cities approach environmental challenges? Feel free to share your comments below or email me at ashley@softwareadvice.com.

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