The World’s Greenest, Most Livable Cities

Writing in this month’s Reader’s Digest, Matthew Kahn, an environmental economist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment, analyzed data from 141 nations and ranked the planet’s greenest, most livable places.

While Northern European nations like Finland, Norway and Sweden fared well, the United States performed poorly in several categories, ranking #107 in Greenhouse gases, #106 in energy efficiency, #63 in air quality and #22 in water quality. No U.S. cities made it into the top ten greenest/most livable, but New York is getting close. Chinese cities are bottom of the barrel. 

Top Five
1. Stockholm
2. Oslo
3. Munich
4. Paris

5. Frankfurt

Bottom Five
68. Bangkok

69. Guangzhou

70. Mumbai

71. Shanghai

72. Beijing

U.S. Cities
15. New York

22. Washington, D.C.

23. Chicago

26. San Francisco

57. Los Angeles

The author, who also wrote Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment, identifies car ownership as a major problem. "If China’s car-ownership rate matched that of the United States, one
billion cars would be on China’s roads. That would translate into total
gas consumption of 520 billion gallons per year—nearly half the current
world use."
Even at the current rate in which people drive in in Beijing today "the level of one type of particularly harmful air
pollution is more than four times the level in New York City." Thankfully, the world’s newest subway line was just finished in Beijing.

  • pedestrian

    Hmm. How is D.C., of all places, greener than green crusader Daley’s Chicago? I’d be interested to hear someone defend D.C. for once, actually, but there’s no detail in the article.

  • budrick

    Washington has higher mass transit usage than Chicago, for one.

  • d

    Where was Boston on that list?

  • N

    Where is Seattle? A city with many walkable/livable places. A mayor who fights for making Seattle more green and leads the Kyoto protocol? Hmm…this list is bunk!

  • pc

    @ped: well, for one, DC had much less heavy industry to start with. Besides, the “green crusader” mayor is currently presiding over a complete dismantling of the region’s transit network, which has long run on fumes and will soon grind to a total halt.

  • anonymous

    DC has the second most used subway system in the country, with somewhere around 900,000 rides per weekday last I checked. Chicago, despite being bigger and having a more extensive subway system, has far less ridership. Perhaps the many slow zones caused by deferred maintenance don’t really do much to attract ridership. As for Seattle, it has no rapid transit at all, and most people still get around by car. Even the biggest concentration of pedestrians in the city, Pike Place Market, is actually open to automotive traffic, which certainly says something about Seattle’s urban planning priorities.

  • Hilary

    DC metro area has preserved the landscapes and park infrastructure of its parkways, which have enabled many miles of beautiful walking and cycling paths…

  • Larry Littlefield

    My perception is that at any level of technology, there is a density tradeoff between global impacts and local impacts.

    Lower density means even if a person produces more pollution, he or she is less affected by it. Higher density means people produce less pollution, in part because they don’t require private automobiles and can afford extensive sewage treatement plants, etc., but experience more pollution personally.

    New Yorkers, for example, contribute less to ozone pollution than those Upstate, but experience more of it. For greenhouse gas emissions of course, NYC is by far the best in the U.S.

    The two effects need to be measured and thought about separately. In part because the social and technological changes needed to reduce the global impact to those in places with less local impact are different than those required to reduce the local impact in places with less global impact.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Lower density means even if a person produces more pollution, he or she is less affected by it. Higher density means people produce less pollution, in part because they don’t require private automobiles and can afford extensive sewage treatement plants, etc., but experience more pollution personally.

    Larry, I think you put your finger on the difference between two views of “Green.” New Yorkers produce a lot less pollution, but experience more. For your average SUV driver in Boulder, that’s “less green.”


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