US cities still trail most major European and Canadian cities in overall sustainability
New York City leads the United States for sustainability, according to the Sustainable Cities Index from Arcadis, the leading global design and consultancy for natural and built assets. From the 22 North American cities measured, New York City ranks ahead of Boston (5th), San Francisco (6th) and Seattle (7th) while rounding out the bottom rankings are Indianapolis, Tampa and Detroit. Canadian cities ranked ahead of most U.S. cities, with Vancouver taking the highest spot and Toronto and Montreal ranking in the top five.
With cities home to more than half the world’s population, it’s important for them to seek ways to become an attractive place to live, work and invest, which ultimately makes them more sustainable. The index explores the three pillars of sustainability – People (social), Planet (environmental) and Profit (economic) – to develop an indicative ranking of 100 cities worldwide that represent a cross section of the population. The overall index is an analysis of 32 different indicators such as income inequality, education, crime, affordability (People); energy consumption, drinking water, sanitation, green space (Planet), and transportation, economic development, and employment (Profit).
North America Rankings (with global ranking)
An interactive summary of the full rankings and findings can be found here: www.arcadis.com/SCI2016
North America peaks in Profit but lags in People and Planet
In North America, 63 percent of cities measured for this index rank in the top 50 for Profit compared to other developed global cities, but this figure falls to 27 percent for the People category and 50 percent for Planet.
Similarly, U.S. cities rank just below most other developed nations in sustainability and are most challenged in two categories: People and Planet. To achieve greater sustainability in the People category, U.S. cities need to improve social factors such as work-life balance, crime, health, and affordability. To improve in the Planet sub-index, U.S. cities need to lower their per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, use less energy, and generate more urban green space.
New York City, with nearly 9 million residents and serving as an international hub for commerce and politics, tops the Profit category and ranks higher than its U.S. counterparts in environmental efforts. However, it falls to #15 in North America and #77 worldwide in the People category, primarily due to the high cost of housing and a high consumer price index. It’s noted that the NYC Mayor’s Office has taken steps to improve poverty and increase minimum wage by 2019 while providing more affordable housing options and better access to early childhood education.
In the Planet sub-index, NYC has worked to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the city has placed additional emphasis on infrastructure expansion and modernization. New York, like Boston and other coastal cities, faces threats from rising sea levels and potential damage from intense storm surge but is making headway with designs for flood protection systems.
West Coast U.S. cities are not far behind NYC with San Francisco and Seattle coming in as the third and fourth highest ranked U.S. cities for sustainability. Both west coast cities have a health-conscious population, low amounts of air pollution, reduced homicide rates, perform well in ease of doing business and enjoy economic vitality. But skyrocketing property prices make it difficult to find affordable housing and the amount of green space per city size is lacking compared to NYC or Washington, D.C.
In the middle of the U.S. rankings is Los Angeles, a highly educated and healthy city rated well for ease of doing business. However, it ranks low due to frequent smog, reduced affordability, and insufficient green space. It also continues to face environmental risks from drought and water scarcity.
The third largest U.S. city, Chicago, ranks #16 out of 22 U.S. cities. Although it features a highly educated workforce, Chicago would need to improve Planet factors such as increased green space and greater limits on greenhouse gas emissions in order to rank higher in sustainability.
In Texas, Houston places higher than Dallas on the People sub-index while Dallas is ahead for environmental and economic sustainability. Miami and Tampa (13th and 21st in the U.S. respectively) are comparable on People and Planet, but Miami edges ahead in economic stability. Denver ranks well in People and Profit and receives high marks for light rail expansion and airport satisfaction. However, the Rocky Mountain city ranks low in green space and affordability.
“As the index indicates, most of North America’s iconic cities produce strong economies with relatively low unemployment, which provides them a path toward sustainability, but environmental risks, rapid urbanization, less focus on green space and lack of work-life balance prevent most U.S. cities from ranking in the top 10 most sustainable cities when compared to other developed nations,” said Joachim Ebert, CEO of Arcadis North America. “However, as our index shows, all cities face unique challenges and none of the cities can claim to have earned the title of being completely sustainable. This index should serve as a guide to city authorities for comparing their competitiveness to similar cities and to learn by example the measures necessary in becoming more sustainable.”
Canadian cities rank higher than U.S. counterparts
In the People category, Vancouver ranks well for its low crime rate, healthy population, affordability, and excellent work-life balance. For Planet, this western Canadian city proves its sustainability with low energy consumption and a focus on renewable energy, minimal air pollution and nominal greenhouse gas emissions. It also gets high marks for its robust wastewater management and recycling programs. In the Profit sub-index, Vancouver fares well for employment but could generate a healthier business climate to further economic development.
Europe tops global index, Zurich #1
European cities dominate the top of the overall ranking making up 16 of the top 20 positions. Zurich, Switzerland, took the number one ranking out of 100 cities due to its strong reputation as a livable, contemporary city known for its focus on environmentalism and fostering its world renowned financial institutions.
Zurich rated most sustainable for its aggressive approach to tackling climate change and resource scarcity, with a goal set to use 2,000 watts of energy per capita. The city is also recognized for investing in energy efficiency and renewable energies, sustainable buildings, and a highly coordinated public transit system. Zurich is also leading the health ranking globally. All of these factors make Zurich an attractive place to live, work and invest, despite being hampered by lack of affordability and work life-balance.
Note to Editor:
The cities included in this report were selected to provide an overview of the planet’s cities, providing not only wide-ranging geographical coverage, but also varying levels of economic development, expectations of future growth and an assortment of sustainability challenges.
Building on last year’s index, Arcadis has sought to create a more indicative global picture of urban sustainability by including an additional 50 cities to the ranking and incorporating seven new indicators of sustainability to the index. As a result of this, it would be inaccurate to compare the rankings to last year’s.
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