As is the way with these things, at the end of 2010 a list of the world’s 10 “greenest cities” was published. In fact various lists of this type are regularly published and with a little blur around the edges, the main candidates remain the same with a strong representation from the Nordic nations plus a few entries from Europe and the US. Curitiba in Brazil (a city that bases its identity on being green) is the only regular Latin American entry.
Having just returned from viewing focus groups in Mexico, however, I’d like to nominate its capital city as a green city on the rise. Yes, it may seem improbable (and it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to find) but Mexico City is making a big statement about the environment and is putting the money behind the rhetoric.
This is no mean feat: Mexico City has a population of 10 million people (over 20 million in the metropolitan area) making it the 5th largest urban agglomeration in the world. Being located 2,000 metres above sea level with a hot climate also adds an extra challenge.
So what has Mexico City been up to? Well quite a lot I discovered …
Since 1990, all cars have been banned from the road for 1 day a week (Monday – Friday) to reduce emissions and in real terms since then the levels of major pollutants such as lead, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide have fallen by between 95 and 57%.
Still, that’s not enough and so the restrictions were extended in 2008 to include Saturdays. What’s important though is that they have recognised the importance of moving away from the car and are investing in alternative transport – a new metro line due to open in 2011-2012; replacing the fleets of old, polluting “microbuses” and taxis and replacing them with modern, high-capacity alternatives; a zero emission corridor; and a controversial attempt to put in place obligatory school buses to reduce the number of cars on the school run.
Recycling is also on the rise with 12% of all waste recycled and levels of waste per inhabitant lower than in Manhattan.
Reforestation and protection of open spaces in the D.F area are on-going and steps are being taken to clean up rivers. New sustainable housing and “green roofs” are being promoted, and solar energy is gradually starting to take off.
But what was my favourite initiative? Mexico’s answer to the Boris bike – over 1,000 of bikes across almost 90 stations in a core area of the city, with over 5,000 registered users in the first year of operation. Crucially though, these bikes are so much cooler than the classic city bikes of London, Rome or Paris with raised handlebars reminiscent of the classic chopper … it’s green with style (but no, I still wasn’t brave enough)!
So let’s give some recognition to a city that is battling the odds to go green and think about what we could maybe learn from their enthusiasm!