10 Climate Conscious Cities—Electric Cars, Rooftop Farms, and Other Ways They’re Preparing for the Future

There’s no time to waste when it comes to acting on climate change. The world’s most forward-thinking cities are curbing carbon and building for a sustainable future, now.
New York Navy Yard by Valery Rizzo

Brooklyn Grange's Navy Yard rooftop farm does more than grow vegetables. It manages more than a million gallons of stormwater each year, ultimately reducing the amount of waste water that overflows into New York City's open waterways. Photo by Valery Rizzo.

This article appears in Cities Are Now, the Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine.

1. New York City


PlaNYC 2030, New York’s renowned climate change response plan, aims to simultaneously accommodate a quickly growing population and reduce emissions by focusing on infrastructure. By updating building codes, retrofitting older buildings, and encouraging sustainable design and architecture, NYC is well on the way to meeting its goal of 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

2. Bogotá

Bogota public transit by DearEdward

Bogotá's public transit system. Photo by DearEdward / Flickr.

Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system offers an ­alternative to traffic-snarled highways. Exclusive lanes allow Bogotá buses to travel rapidly throughout the city, ­mimicking the efficiency of rail systems at a fraction of the cost. With a 32 percent reduction in transit travel time, bus rapid transit is making the city cleaner and more accessible.

3. Portland

Portland bridge by Victor von Salza

The newest bridge across the Willamette River in Portland Ore., named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, is designed to carry light-rail trains, buses, cyclists, pedestrians, and streetcars—but no cars. Photo by Victor von Salza.

Portland is creating “20-minute neighborhoods” to address climate change on a city-wide scale. By increasing urban density and improving pedestrian infrastructure, the city is building resilient low-carbon communities where basic needs are within a 20-minute walk or bike ride. The city aims to have 90 percent of its residents living in 20-minute neighborhoods by 2030.

4. Seoul

Sun in Seoul by Slack12

Sunrise in Seoul. Photo by slack12 / Flickr.

Seoul’s array of solar technology programs is breaking the city’s dependence on nonrenewable energy resources. Rooftop ­photovoltaic installations—more than 10,000 of them—will raise energy capacity by 290 megawatts per roof. With one energy ­self-sufficient village in each district, the “Sunshine City” is pushing forward into a cleaner-energy future for post-Fukushima Asia.

5. Chicago

Chicago by Ann Fisher

Chicago. Photo by Ann Fisher / Flickr.

In 1995, a five-day heat wave in Chicago caused about 750 deaths. Global warming threatens to raise the annual number of extremely hot days (over 100 degrees) in Chicago from just two to 31, making future heat waves like the one in 1995 nearly certain. In recent years, the city has focused on reducing its temperature by increasing the spread of urban forest and installing four million square feet of green roofs, both of which soak up carbon and reduce urban heat-island effects.

6. Melbourne

Melbourne botanical garden by Radler Gin

Melbourne botanical gardens. Photo by Raider of Gin / Flickr.

Melbourne is transforming its urban landscape. Stormwater harvesting, permeable pavements, and cool roofs are helping to protect the city from the effects of climate change, and an increased urban tree canopy will provide crucial ecosystem services like carbon sequestration. The adaptation program is projected to reduce the city’s temp­erature by 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Amsterdam

Amsterdam by Moyan Brenn

Amsterdam. Photo by Moyan Brenn / Flickr.

Drawing on its long history of financial acumen, Amsterdam has created a sustainability fund of $103 million that allows businesses, residents, and communities to invest in green projects. The fund is available to everyone in the city, from individuals and start-ups to large commercial ventures. Participants are required to recover the initial investment, making the fund a smart, long-term option.

8. Barcelona

Barcelona by Aleix Cortes

TGV in Barcelona. Photo by Aleix Cortes / Flickr.

Barcelona is improving the way the city makes decisions by gathering more accurate real-time information on the relationship between the environment and urban infrastructure. A comprehensive “Urban Platform” uses environmental sensors that detect everything from air pollution and humidity to use of parking spaces. The project provides insight into effective management of city resources, enabling the city to address climate change.

9. Boulder

Boulder power plant by John Crisanti

Above, the Valmont power plant viewed from Boulder, Colo. The last coal unit at the plant is scheduled to retire in 2017. Photo by John Crisanti.

Instead of waiting for the federal government to implement a nation-wide carbon tax, citizens of Boulder took matters into their own hands. In 2007, the city enacted the country’s first municipal carbon tax, which funds Boulder’s climate action plan. The tax generates $1.8 million a year. In 2010, the tax prevented nearly 85,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

10. Oslo

Electric car in Oslo by Robyn Lee

Electric car in Oslo. Photo by Robyn Lee/Flickr.

Oslo is leading the charge toward making electric vehicles a realistic option for the average citizen. The city has built 500 free recharging stations, with 400 more in the works. Oslo has also declared that all city-owned vehicles will be emission-free by 2015.