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Sustainability Rankings
Jamais Cascio, 10 Jun 05

Sustainlane -- which describes itself as a "community-generated guide for living a better life" -- recently posted a ranking of 25 American cities on sustainability concerns. The leaders should come as no surprise (SF #1, Portland #2, Berkeley #3, Seattle #4, Santa Monica #5), and the list is (by and large) further confirmation of the correlation between sustainable urban centers and "cultural creative" centers. What makes the Sustainlane list particularly valuable, however, is that they are transparent with their methodology, and did more than simply count the number of hybrids or LEED buildings. Interestingly, none of the leading cities scored well in every category, and all but the #1 (San Francisco) had at least one aspect measured as a "sustainability laggard" or worse.

Commenters at Cascadia Scorecard debated whether the good-but-not-great ranking of New York (#7) was too low, and whether the rankings gave too great a weight to plans instead of actions. That's the good thing about transparency of method -- if you disagree with how Sustainlane came to its conclusions, it's easy to draw your own.

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Minneapolis tied for 1st in Planning? And ahead of Portland by three places and Santa Monica by nine places in Transportation? That doesn't seem right at all.

Plus, air quality is often more a factor of geography than of any sort of effort to help the air be clean, so I'm not sure why that should be put in as a factor of equal weight. One could also say that to a limited extent with water quality.

Factoring in climate policy as a factor is a bit dicey, too, since it's a much easier proposition to do well by the Kyoto Protocol in the more temperate climates and the ones with abundant renewable energy resources. It also helps if the municipality can actually do something about it by owning the utilities, etc.

Nice idea but I think they need to work on the methodology some more, as well as provide more details with actual supporting data that leads to the rankings in each category. I also don't think that each category should be given equal weight.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 10 Jun 05



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