Sustainable cities to watch in 2012

sustainable citiesThink of sustainability, and San Francisco is probably the first city to come to mind. But a new crop of green urban centers is emerging, and they’re not where you might think.

Leon Kaye, editor of GreenGoPost.com, recently published a list of his picks for emerging sustainable cities to watch in 2012. Some spots were to be expected, like Detroit, with its preponderance of urban renewal projects, and Accra, which recently topped Siemens’ and Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of Africa’s greenest cities.

But there were also a few wild cards. Mexico City made the list for its 10-point Climate Action Program, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 million metric tones between 2008 and 2012. The plan included massive improvements to the public transportation system, including the construction of Latin America’s largest rail system and investments in green roofing, water conservation, and waste management.

Also on the list was Naples, Italy, whose trash crisis has made headlines since 2008. Once city residents started realizing that the government wasn’t going to take action, they started taking matters into their own hands. Through grassroots activist movements, like guerrilla gardening and flash mobs, Neapolitans are slowly beautifying their city, and this year will host the UN’s World Urban Forum.

The other cities on Kaye’s watch list were Adelaide, Australia; Belgrade, Serbia; Brasilia, Brazil; Doha, Qatar; San Jose, California; and Seoul, Korea.

[Flickr image of Mexico City via Alfredo Gayou]

Amsterdam’s booming Eastern Harbor

Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a beautiful city famous for its narrow canal houses that during its golden age served as both homes and warehouses for merchant families waiting for their ship to come in. The historic heart of Amsterdam is an architectural treasure, and the Dutch didn’t stop building innovative spaces in the modern times. One of Amsterdam’s newest expansions is the Eastern Harbor Area.

A century ago this area served freighters and steamers, but with the larger ships of the modern age, that industry has shifted to the Western Harbor. Now many of the old buildings have been converted into homes and apartments and new ones have cropped up, designed by leading Dutch architects.

The area isn’t far from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station and is best seen by bike. I rented a bike from Mac Bike, conveniently located in the station, and set out on a typically overcast Dutch autumn day with a city guide. While it was helpful to have a guide along, Mac Bike has a good map/brochure of the area if you want to go solo.

I love seeing Amsterdam by bike, and the Eastern Harbor Area and Amsterdam’s Eastern Districts are much more open than the historic center. They offer sweeping views of the harbor and the bike lanes are free of drug tourists, who have a bad habit of shuffling zombie-like in the middle of bike lanes in the city center.

%Gallery-139393%The first landmarks you see heading east from Centraal Station are the Maritime Museum’s traditional 17th century facade and the decidedly ship-like modern building for NEMO, Amsterdam’s science center pictured above. This mix of old and new continues as you go eastwards.

Several old warehouses have been converted into apartments, and a hotel that once took emigrants to the New World now serves tourists and business travelers. I found the modern buildings to be more interesting since they’re so unlike what you usually see in Amsterdam. City planners hired different architects to build different buildings on the same street so that you get a wide variety of style within the same view.

Stylized modern bridges take you from one island to the next and offer views down various canals where homeowners dock their boats. Fountains and little parks offer open areas. All in all it was a fun ride and something to consider if you like architecture or just want a healthy two or three hours away from the city center. Try to pick a better day than I did, though!

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.