Why Modern Cities Find It Difficult To Be Environmentally Friendly

 The competition was close. Frankfurt, Copenhagen and Bristol reduced waste, encouraged bicycle use and set up air monitoring systems. In the end, the Danish capital defeated its German and British rivals and was declared last month by the European Union as the continent's green capital for 2014. Environmental experts say that while some of these cities are green on the inside thanks to parks and public transportation, they continue to be environmentally burdensome on the outside - the high standard of living of the residents leads to considerable resource consumption and waste generation.

The capital of Denmark received the title thanks to urban planning that led to a significant increase in the number of cyclists. One-third of the city's two million residents use this mode of transportation to get to work or school, and the goal is to rise to 50 percent within four years. Another goal set by the city's captains is that within four years, every resident will be able to reach the park or the beach in less than a 15-minute walk, and to that end, several new parks have been established. Copenhagen also does not divert waste to landfills - most household waste is transferred to incineration facilities, and the energy extracted from them is used to heat homes. Copenhagen has even started using water meters for every apartment. Following this move, there has been a dramatic 25 percent drop in domestic water consumption in the city in recent years. One of the competing cities, Bristol, has also won praise, thanks in part to its air quality monitoring system, which is considered the best in the UK.

But when one examines in depth what lies behind the green title, a more complex and gray reality is revealed. An example of this is the city of Portland in the northwestern United States. Portland is often regarded as "the greenest city in the United States", and was recently awarded this title by travel & leisure magazine. Eight percent of the city's energy is extracted from renewable sources. This month, a group of American experts published in the scientific journal PLOS BIOLOGY the findings of studies concerning the environmental burden created by man. Referring to Portland, experts point out that it is indeed a pleasant city to live in and that it has an abundance of parks, bike paths, organic food markets and recycling programs.

"However, there is no doubt that Portland is completely dependent on the exploitation of natural and environmental resources at the regional and even global level," the experts say. "Every year the Portland metropolitan area consumes at least 1.25 billion gallons of gasoline, 136 billion gallons of water and half a million tons of food. The city emits 8.5 million tons of greenhouse gases and a million tons of waste. Given that data, the city is not really green." When trying to assess the environmental sustainability of a city, the authors explain, it is impossible to detach the lifestyle that its inhabitants want to maintain from their dependence on ecosystems that they exploit and deplete. The European Environmental Protection Agency also notes the wide-ranging implications for the urban lifestyle - it is estimated that the ecological footprint (extent of environmental resource consumption) of the city of London for example affects an area 300 times larger than that of the city.

Some cities are trying to go in the direction of reducing overall resource consumption. Such is the city of Frankfurt, which has reduced the total amount of waste produced by its inhabitants. In addition, it banned the use of wood from tropical forests. Copenhagen is also trying to move in the direction of reducing the external resources consumed by its residents. Today, the city recycles close to 90 percent of construction waste, thus reducing its dependence on building materials produced at the expense of natural resources.

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