These cities have figured out how to grow sustainably

Top marks for Frankfurt.
Top marks for Frankfurt.
Image: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
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European cities are living up to their reputation for being greener and more pleasant than cities in the US and the rest of the world. That’s according to a top-10 list of sustainable cities released by the design and engineering consultancy firm Arcadis in a recent report (pdf).

Arcadis looked at a selection of 50 cities around the world, using a definition of sustainability that goes beyond the environment, wrapping in economic viability and a sustainable quality of life for its citizens.

The report, compiled by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), looked at 50 cities’ sustainability levels by culling data from a range of sources, including the Siemens Green City Index and the World Bank’s World Development Indicators.

The study’s 50 cities were selected by CEBR to reflect a wide geographical coverage and range of levels of economic development, according to Colin Edwards, a senior economist at CEBR. Arcadis asked CEBR to look at cities that were urbanized, growing, and facing major challenges to sustainability, such as rapid urbanization and population growth.

To measure a city’s sustainability, Arcadis looked at quality of life based on transportation infrastructure, education, and income inequality. It quantified environmental sustainability by tallying measures of recycling rates and air pollution, among others. And for financial stability, the firm took commute times, property and living costs, and a city’s energy-consumption-to-GDP ratio into account.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Frankfurt, the top-ranked city, has set aside more than half its urban space for recreation and green initiatives. It is also home to the European Central Bank, which helps boost its financial standing.
  • Among the top 10 sustainable cities, seven were in Europe and the other three were in Asia. None were in North or South America.
  • Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, and Paris scored lower because of high property prices, with the latter three not even making it into the top 10.