Cities Around the World That Are Going Green
Whether it's by banning cars, imposing strict emissions regulations or leaving fossil fuels behind, many cities are responding to climate change, and it's improving the quality of life for residents. Fewer cars mean less traffic, and lower emissions lead to cleaner air.
There are many things that cities can do to go green. Sustainability may seem pricey initially, but it tends to save money long-term and helps preserve quality of life for everyone on this planet.
The capital of Norway aims to permanently ban all private vehicles while investing in public transit. Currently, the ban only covers the city center, where all street parking has been converted to green space, bike lanes and recreational areas. Pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation are now among Oslo’s highest priorities.
Mexico City, Mexico
The U.N. called Mexico City the most polluted city on the planet in 1992. Since then, Mexico City has made many changes, including promising to get rid of diesel cars by 2025. Through the expansion of public transportation, two million cars have been eliminated from the city’s streets.
Bogotá, Colombia started closing city center streets to cars way back in 1974. Since then, the effort to remove cars from downtown has only expanded. On Sundays, city center streets are closed from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m., during which one million people use the space to ride bicycles and play sports instead. Bogotá also has over 200 miles of bike lanes running throughout the city.
San Francisco, California
Ranking among the worst congestion in the world, traffic in the Bay Area is no joke. To combat this, San Francisco eliminated its minimum parking requirements for new developments, making parking spaces harder to find and giving drivers a reason to choose other forms of transportation.
Madrid made a bold move toward going green in 2018 by requiring all vehicles in the city center to be carbon emission-free. Neither gasoline vehicles registered before 2000 nor diesel vehicles registered before 2006 can drive in downtown Madrid. The only exception is if you're an area resident.
Berlin enacted a ban in 2008 to eliminate all cars that don't comply with the city's emissions standards. Thirty-four square miles of the city are included in the ban, covering around a third of people living there. At the same time, Berlin also boasts a great public transit system significantly boosts its eco-friendliness.
Hong Kong is one of the busiest cities in the world, and all of that hustle leads to a less than green environment. However, moves to ease pollution are being made, with many parts of Hong Kong closed off to cars entirely, such as Cheung Chau and Discovery Bay on Lantau Island.
Because of its status as one of the most polluted cities in Europe, Brussels enacted a ban on all diesel vehicles made before 1998. It also implemented car-free Sundays as of 2019, and vehicle speed limits have been reduced in an attempt to clean up the city's poor air quality.
To counter high pollution levels, London has enacted strict emissions standards. Drivers of vehicles with heavy emissions must pay a high daily fee in order to drive in the city, while most diesel cars are banned. Those cars that are allowed must still pay a fee.
The movement to ban cars is well on its way in Barcelona. The city transformed congested intersections into carless superblocks, each one consisting of nine pedestrian-only city blocks full of gardens and plazas. The goal of this initiative is to decrease air and noise pollution, and it’s already helping.
Venice, Europe's famous city of canals, does not allow cars within the city center. Anyone who visits by car must park outside the city proper and walk in on foot. You can then either continue walking or take a gondola to get around.
Pollution in Paris is a serious problem, but the city has plans to deal with it. Paris has banned cars registered before 1997 from driving in the city during the week, and it’s in the process of turning a highway running alongside the Seine River into a promenade for pedestrians only.
Because Copenhagen is among the most bike-friendly places on the planet, more than half of residents bike to work every single day. If that wasn’t enough, Copenhagen also plans to be completely carbon neutral by 2025.
Athens is in the process of banning all diesel cars from its city center by 2025, largely because of the city's poor air quality. The goal is to eventually ban all gasoline cars as well while encouraging electric vehicles and sustainable transportation.
After San Francisco overturned its mandatory parking minimums for new developments, Minneapolis quickly followed suit. The idea is to discourage driving and get people walking and using public transit instead. This policy aims to reduce both emissions and road congestion.
Ghent, Belgium is ahead of other cities when it comes to banning cars. Automobiles haven’t been allowed in the city center since 1996. By taking such steps to combat both air pollution and traffic congestion, Brussels created more room for public transportation and bicycles.
Fes el Bali, Morocco
Fes el Bali is the ancient walled section of Fes, Morocco. More notably, it is the biggest car-free zone in the world. The walled area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The street traffic is populated by pedestrians, cyclists, donkeys and carts, but no cars save for some emergency vehicles.
Tokyo began its move toward eco-friendliness in 2002 with policies intended to ensure the development of green infrastructure. Large buildings in the city must abide by efficient energy use standards, and programs are in place to reduce waste that ends up in landfills.
New York City, New York
While many New Yorkers have long relied on foot travel to get around their home, the city continues to find ways to reduce car usage. Examples include bike sharing, the promotion of public transit and the creation of additional pedestrian-only zones in some of the busier parts of the city.
No city is too small to make an impact on the planet. Although Zermatt, Switzerland only has about 5,700 residents, this alpine town no longer tolerates cars powered by fossil fuels — only electric and freight vehicles are allowed. Permits to drive and park are only available for the outskirts of town.
Seoul, South Korea
To preserve air quality, Seoul banned all diesel vehicles built before 2005 unless they were able to pass emissions standards. These emissions standards also apply to Seoul's surrounding regions as of 2020.
New Delhi, India
In New Delhi, about 600,000 people die because of air pollution annually. It is one of the most polluted cities in the world. However, local and national officials have begun to take action to combat the deadly air quality. For instance, taxis and auto-rickshaws are required to use gasoline diesel.
Curitiba may not be well known outside of Brazil, but it has been proudly been named the green capital of the country. Residents recycle 70 percent of the city's waste in part because of an incentive program that rewards people for recycling with cash, food and tokens.
Helsinki is one of the greenest cities in the entire world, with 77 percent of all trips taking place by foot, bike or public transit. Even so, the city is working to make urban mobility and environmentally-friendly living an even higher priority.
Stockholm's goal is to be completely free of fossil fuels by 2050, and it’s already well on its way to getting there. The city boasts numerous initiatives to decrease its carbon emissions, including biofuel conversion plants that turn sewage into useable energy.
China is changing the game when it comes to renewable energy. The country now spends more on renewable energy than Europe and the U.S. combined. However, China’s massive pollution problem means that it needs to become greener as quickly as possible.
In Amsterdam, there are more bicycles than people. In addition to the normal variety, electric bikes are also very popular. More than 300 charging stations exist all over the city, while electric taxis and other transportation also exist for anyone without a bike
Among all of North America's major cities, Vancouver has the lowest carbon emissions, although not without plenty of effort. The city has worked for years to provide charging ports for electric vehicles, accessible public transit and a pedestrian-friendly city center. It also promotes vertical upward growth — think skyscrapers — instead of urban sprawl.
Hamburg, the second-largest city in Germany, is also one of the most eco-friendly in Europe. It has bike paths, electric transportation, successful waste reduction programs and restrictions on many disposable items .
Since 1991, Portland, Oregon has transitioned away from fossil fuels to become one of the greenest cities in the world. This is thanks to excellent urban planning by its Sustainable City Government (SCG). The city has lowered carbon emissions by 17 percent since 2006, all while keeping population and industry growing.