Cities Around the World That Are Going Green

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: viewsonic99/Pixabay

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.

Oslo, Norway

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.

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The city has taken important steps in fighting climate change, and residents are already feeling the difference in air quality. They can enjoy the city center more thoroughly without traffic and smog.

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.

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Photo Courtesy: Alejandro Islas Photograph AC/Wikimedia Commons

Starting in 2020, Mexico City bans many single-use plastic items, and shops no longer carry plastic bags. As of 2021, plastic straws, cups, cutlery and balloons are also illegal. Because Mexico City is second only to New York City for waste production, these changes could have a big impact.

Bogotá, Colombia

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.

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Every February 1st is Car-Free Day in Bogotá. For 19 years, this holiday has given the people of Bogotá a glimpse into an existence without the traffic, stress and pollution that cars create.

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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.

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San Francisco also plans to go carbon neutral by 2050. In September 2019, city officials passed a law that says large commercial buildings must use renewable energy sources for all of their power. The city is the first in the country to enact this law, and it could inspire other parts of the U.S. to do the same.

Madrid, Spain

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.

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The idea of this new law is to get emissions under control and also make the city center experience more pleasant for everyone. When there is less traffic, both drivers and pedestrians can move more freely.

Berlin, Germany

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.

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Berlin’s refund system for recycling has made the practice into a way of life for many residents. Germany's capital also has the greatest area of green space of any European city, with green space and water combined covering 46 percent of Berlin.

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Hong Kong

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.

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The city also plans to build more pedestrian-only zones in its busiest areas, and it has begun testing how the city would function after closing streets in the busy business district known as Central. Hong Kong officials hope these moves decrease congestion and pollution at the same time.

Brussels, Belgium

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.

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Brussels plans to make public transportation free during periods of high air pollution, and it may expand free public transportation to nights and weekends as well. City officials have also put effort into increasing the amount of pedestrian-friendly areas in the city. They plan to eliminate all gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035.

London, England

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.

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The low-emissions zone in London is set to expand in 2021. This effort includes fees on buses and coaches and an expansion to the north and south circular zone. Estimates suggest that about 80 percent of cars in the low-emissions zone will meet the city's emissions standards once the plan is implemented.

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Barcelona, Spain

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.

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To combat global warming, Barcelona is building urban green infrastructure everywhere it can, including rooftop gardens. Local businesses like Barcelona Energia have enacted plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to clean energy.

Venice, Italy

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.

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Because of Venice's summer heat, most houses have shutters on windows to keep interior spaces cool without using energy. Government-owned buildings aren’t allowed to use air conditioning until June 15th. Such efforts lower Venice’s energy bills and its carbon footprint at the same time.

Paris, France

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.

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The city is set to double its bike lanes as of 2020, and it intends on completely banning diesel vehicles by 2025. These eco-driven moves will no doubt help clean Paris' air, not to mention make the city much more bearable to live in by reducing the traffic.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

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.

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The city's buses are already moving to electric from diesel, and there are plans underway to build an artificial ski slope called Copenhill. Unlike other places to ski, Copenhill will cover city waste as it’s turned into energy for both businesses and homes. The city also wants to build a bicycle superhighway covering 300 miles to connect Copenhagen to its suburbs.

Athens, Greece

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.

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Athens built a metro network in 2010 for the Olympics and has since seen reduced traffic congestion and lower commute times and air pollution as a result. City officials are in the process of implementing a green economic strategy to foster all kinds of green jobs and investment in Athens.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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.

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Overall, Minneapolis officials want to reduce emissions by a whopping 80 percent before 2050 and decrease miles driven locally by 40 percent. Efforts are also underway to create green roofs throughout the city and plant more trees, leading to a more sustainable city.

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Ghent, Belgium

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.

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This mid-sized city also intends on becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Brussels has put a lot of work into reducing emissions in the areas of transportation, agriculture and lighting. In addition, Ghent households now recycle more than half of their waste thanks to initiatives put in place by the city.

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.

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The population of Fes el Bali is roughly 156,000, making its car-free state quite the feat. Whether you're a tourist or a local, the thousands of narrow alleys in the area make being able to walk without worrying about cars a blessing.

Tokyo, Japan

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.

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Strict regulation on diesel vehicle emissions began in Tokyo in 2003. Vehicles that don't pass an emissions test aren't allowed to drive in the city. Other policy goals set by Tokyo include reducing plastic bag usage, converting to LED light, and using renewable energy for the 2020 Olympic Games.

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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.

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The city is also trying to reduce its carbon footprint through initiatives to build solar and wind energy farms. 50 percent of the city's energy will come from renewable sources by 2030. By 2050, the city aims to be carbon neutral.

Zermatt, Switzerland

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.

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Zermatt's location is at the base of one of Europe's highest mountains, the Matterhorn. It’s particularly important to combat air pollution here because of its potential to harm the visibility of local scenery. Of course, city officials also care about keeping Earth clean and green, so the no-car rule serves many purposes.

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.

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The long-term goal for Seoul is to create a city that doesn't need cars at all. Eventually, everything will be accessible either on foot or via the city's subway lines. Seoul has also implemented a program where people must leave their cars at home once a week. Anyone who fails to do so faces higher car fees.

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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.

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New Delhi also has a special policy based on license plate numbers that restricts when people can drive. Depending on what day it is, only drivers with even or odd license numbers can take to the road. Stricter emissions standards costly penalties for burning trash are also helping to fight back against dirty air.

Curitiba, Brazil

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.

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Curitiba also boasts an amazing public transit system that allows people to easily get around without cars, lowering the city's emissions. Furthermore, Curitiba's urban area includes plenty of green space, including 16 parks and 14 forests.

Helsinki, Finland

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.

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The city has plans to transform its suburbs into pedestrian-friendly areas that are accessible from the downtown area. Other goals include promoting public transport and decreasing the use of cars even further.

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Stockholm, Sweden

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.

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Stockholm also has a project in the works to turn waste heat from stadiums, data centers and stores into residential heating for the homes of the city. The city even provides incentives for technology businesses to move downtown that their waste heat can be utilized for this purpose.

Chengdu, China

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.

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One solution for China is a satellite city being built outside Chengdu. It’s designed to allow residents to get anything they need in the city within 15 minutes of walking, and many of the roads aren’t open to cars.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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

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Even the garbage in Amsterdam is used responsibly: Solid waste is burned and then used to power local residences and industries. Amsterdam also continues to invest in wind and solar energy, making it a truly green city.

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Vancouver, Canada

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.

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The city’s goal is to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. In 2016, Vancouver ranked number one for air quality in major cities globally, so they might just get there.

Hamburg, Germany

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 .

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From 2020 onward, Hamburg only orders electric buses for its public transportation fleet in an effort to move toward a zero-emissions bus system. This goal will hopefully be accomplished by 2030. While Germany as a whole is going green, Hamburg is among the first cities to make a commitment to a completely electric bus fleet.

Portland, Oregon

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.

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What's more, residents of Portland recycle 63 percent of their waste thanks to a culture that embraces green living and nature. The city's expansion of bike lanes has also helped the city to cut back on emissions.

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