Green Cities

Categories: Places

It’s not all bad news for the environment. ANDREW BENDER turns the spotlight on four cities that are taking the right steps towards eco-sustainability.


A new branch museum of Paris’ famed Louvre Museum that’s built atop an abandoned coal mine? You heard right. Set to open in late 2012, the Louvre-Lens will be located in the industrial city of Lens some 200km north of Paris, in an area that was home to intensive coal mining activity in the 19th and 20th centuries. When the mines were closed in 1960, the fields around them fell into ruin. Five decades later, the 20ha site will house a work of art whose five buildings, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architectural team Sanaa, will be a model for future construction projects, as the building will have a low environmental impact, reduced operating costs and high indoor air quality.


The fishing town of 27,000 on Japan’s south-west coast was the site of a well-known case of industrial poisoning. In 1956, residents came down with Minamata Disease, a deadly neurological affliction resulting from years of eating local seafood tainted with methylmercury. Turns out a chemical plant had been dumping the poison into local waters over the years. Over 1,700 people died and hundreds more were afflicted. A mass cleanup of the area was organised, which saw the bay netted to keep out all forms of sea life as contaminants were dredged from it. By 1997, chemical levels in the waters had gone back to normal. Today, Minamata is a green city with a zero-waste policy, where residents are encouraged to reduce the use of natural resources and energy consumption, and to recycle efficiently.


Many were surprised when a financial magazine declared Pennsylvania’s second largest city to be America’s Most Livable City in 1985. After all, the city was America’s steel capital for much of the 20th century. By the 1970s, it was one of the most polluted cities in the US, with a grey haze and brilliant orange sunsets (which result from pollutants in the air) dominating the landscape. But things changed in the 1980s when steel production moved overseas to cheaper locales. In downtown Pittsburgh, focus shifted toward higher education and medicine, with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh stepping in to offer “clean” jobs. Today, the city is one of the country’s leading forces in education and health care. Pollution levels have also dropped dramatically, with the American Lung Association reporting 27 fewer high-ozone days in 2011 compared to 1996.


In this metropolis of 18 million, there’s a clean-up in action in the most unlikely of places. The 175ha Dharavi slum – where scenes from the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire were shot – has an estimated 600,000 to 1 million residents. Here, enterprising locals collect plastic waste, break it down into flakes, which are made into pellets that are then “reborn” as bracelets, cups, earrings, spectacle frames and shoe heels, among other things. Other recycled items include oil drums and tins, paper and colour dyes.



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