Metrics for Great Cities

The Most-Livable Cities Share Common Traits

I recently noticed, while writing an article about walkability, some overlap among top-performing U.S. cities in positive metrics. I think these are important because they’re all the result of good policies, not mere good fortune. What are the metrics for great cities?

Urban Forests

The urban forest is the collective tree and shrub cover in and around cities, located on both private and public land. According to American Forests, a nonprofit forest-advocacy organization, the urban forest is able to:

  • Remove air pollution
  • Produce oxygen
  • Absorb rainwater and pollutants in rainwater that would otherwise run into streams and groundwater
  • Provide shade
  • Block wind
  • Reduce energy demand
  • Reduce noise levels
  • Store carbon
  • Provide habitat for animals, and
  • Make people happier and more relaxed.

American Forests evaluated the 50 most-populous U.S. cities’ urban forests in regard to:

  • Civic engagement in maintaining the urban forest
  • Urban forest strategies and city greening to address city infrastructure challenges
  • Accessibility of urban forest and greenspaces to the public
  • Overall health and condition of the city’s urban forest
  • Documented knowledge about its urban forests, and
  • Urban forest management plans and management activities.

Why did American Forests undertake the project?

Scott Steen, American Forests CEO and one of the judges for the project, said the group wanted to “showcase the tangible value that urban forests provide to cities and their residents, including economic, aesthetic, social and physical well-being. Various studies have shown a correlation between trees and lower rates of crime, reduced levels of stress and lower body mass.”

Image #1: New York City skyline, Graham Styles

In addition, “No two cities have worked exactly the same way to achieve their place on our top 10 list, but they each serve as a role model for others,” Steen said.

Energy Efficiency

Achieving greater energy efficiency, like living in a healthy urban forest, results in a better quality of life for people. It also saves people and businesses money, and has the potential to obviate the need for more power plants as the country’s population grows.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) evaluated 34 major U.S. cities on their efforts to reduce energy use and costs. ACEEE ranked each city based on the following sectors’ successes to reduce energy use:

  • Local government
  • Community initiatives
  • Buildings
  • Utilities
  • Transportation

Boston walkable neighborhood

Walk Score

My previous article looked at Walk Scores in more detail. You can review it here. The walkability rankings were compiled by the group Walk Score. It’s important to remember that different neighborhoods in a city can have hugely disparate scores. Denver’s overall score is 55.7, but the Berkeley neighborhood on Denver’s west side, for example, at 93 is a “Walker’s Paradise.”

Here’s how the data looks when combined:

Urban Forest

Energy Efficiency

Walk Score

New York City

Top 10

69.75 (3rd)

88 (1st)

Seattle

Top 10

65.25 (5th)

71 (8th)

Washington, D.C.

Top 10

56.25 (7th)

74 (7th)

Portland, OR

Top 10

70 (2nd)

63 (15th)

Minneapolis

Top 10

55.25 (8th)

65 (12th)

Denver

Top 10

52.75 (11th)

56 (23rd)

Austin, TX

Top 10

62 (6th)

35 (34th)

Sacramento

Top 10

40.75 (18th)

43 (24th)

Charlotte, NC

Top 10

23.75 (31st)

24 (50th)

Boston

not ranked

76.75 (1st)

80 (3rd)

San Francisco

not ranked

69.75 (3rd)

84 (2nd)

Philadelphia

not ranked

54.5 (10th)

77 (4th)

Chicago

not ranked

54.75 (9th)

75 (6th)

Milwaukee, WI

Top 10

not ranked

59 (20th)

Clearly many other metrics would be useful. These three are interesting, I think, because each confers benefits beyond the individual person. Energy efficiency is good for individuals, businesses, and the environment. Walkable cities are good for people’s health and for property values. The urban forest gives people cleaner air and water, cooler temperatures, and often a sense of peace and well being.

What other metrics would be useful in this sort of comparison?

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

 

 

 

Tiny Homes Can Serve Diverse Housing Needs

tiny homes can serve diverse housing needs

Here’s a link to a story I wrote about tiny homes and tiny home communities for Sourceable.net.

Tiny homes have been gaining popularity among people who want to downsize their lives, live in an environmentally responsible way, have a home that’s portable, build their own small home for a remote property, or have little money for housing.

Now a few people are working to create tiny home communities, as tiny homes can serve diverse housing needs. Jay Shafer of Four Lights Tiny Houses is actively working on “The Napolean Complex,” a tiny house community in Northern California.

Tiny homes are hot right now!

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

Walkable Cities Make for Better Cities

Walkable Cities Make for Better Cities

Click to read my article in Sourceable.net about the benefits of walkable cities.

 

I wrote this article, “Walkable Cities Make for Better Cities,” for Sourceable.net. The site is based in Australia but runs articles for professionals in architecture, construction, design, engineering, and property worldwide.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

Is This the Best Tiny House Design?

Wow, this is a well-conceived and constructed tiny house! No surprise that yacht construction was an inspiration for design and materials. This home crams more useable features into the space than any other tiny home I’ve seen. So is this the best tiny house design?

Minim House, tiny house interior, kitchen

The Minim House, a superior tiny house design.

 

the Minim House exterior

The Minim House lives at Boneyard Studios.

 

Minim House sofa, bathroom, bedroom.

Another view of the interior.

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

 

 

Tiny Homes With Great Design

Tiny homes are all the rage these days (in some circles), and run the gamut from simple, rough-hewn shacks to highly designed and finished homes. You’ll find a huge variety of layouts, but these three strike me as tiny homes with great design.

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tiny modern house, Portland

This tiny house offers an exceptional design and layout.

Steely Cottage tiny home

The Steely Cottage floorplan is a great design.

 

Lloyd Kahn wrote and published a great book on the subject:

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Lloyd included a huge variety of tiny homes, from those home-built on a trailer to homes professionally built on land. It’s captivating.

Sites Worth A Look: Sourceable, City Farmer News, The Automatic Earth

It’s tough to keep up with all the excellent sites out there, but these are sites worth a look: Sourceable, City Farmer News, The Automatic Earth. Loads of interesting info in each. And the first video features a German town that has pursued energy independence.

sourceable.net covers architecture, building, construction, engineering

sourceable.net is an australian web site that covers architecture, urban planning, construction, design, and engineering.

 

City Farmer News

City Farmer News has been around since the late 1970s, and online since the early 1990s.

 

If you're interested in environmental issues as they relate to global finance and predictions of collapse, check it out.

The Automatic Earth covers finance, environment, and economic collapse.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

A Self-Sufficient Community in Colombia

Gaviotas, Colombia is a self-sustaining community

Gaviotas, Colombia is a sustainable community created in a “tropical desert.”

 

About 40 years ago a man decided to create a self-sufficient community in Colombia. Here’s a bit of the story the village of Gaviotas, which makes use of:

  • homegrown renewable technologies
  • bioclimatic architecture
  • turning a desert into a forest.

Sounds a lot like permaculture principles.

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

Whole Tree Structures by Roald Gundersen

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Architect and builder Roald Gundersen builds what he calls “whole tree structures,” including homes and commercial buildings. Lately he and his team have been testing the design properties of branched columns at the Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

What The Hell Is Community Solar?

Clean Energy Collective, Lowry facility

400 kW of clean solar power in action

 

Clean Energy Collective’s 400 kW facility at the old Lowry Air Force Base places a state-of-the art solar array into production where anyone with an electric bill can invest in solar electricity. It’s Denver County’s first community-owned solar array.

What The Hell Is Community Solar?

The state’s Solar Gardens legislation paved the way. More info herehere, and here. For existing buildings, and buildings undergoing renovation, this makes a lot of sense. You and I can invest in solar power without having to deal with panels on our roofs, maintenance, and so on.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture