Diversely Sustainable Cities II: Philadelphia and Medellin

    The Medellin escalator connects some of the city's poorest residents with opportunities in the city center. Photo: Courtesy MrGrau_2010 Creative Commons

The Medellin escalator connects some of the city’s poorest residents with opportunities in the city center. Photo: Courtesy MrGrau_2010 Creative Commons

In the second story of the Sustainable Cities sequence, we’ll look at two other diversely sustainable cities that may surprise you: Medellin, Colombia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Medellin, Colombia

Medellin has been long known as a city of turmoil — both immersed in filth and historically recognized as the most violent city in the world. Medellin’s former mayor, Alonso Salazar, however, opted to shift Medellin in an entirely new direction.

Following the implementation of several new public transportation initiatives, the city has seen immense changes. Thanks, in part, to Salazar’s initiatives, Medellin now boasts of a public bicycle system, ride-sharing programs, and a savvy 1,300-ft. escalator that links Medellin’s formerly poorest neighborhood, Comuna 13, to the city center.

Medellin earned the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award — alongside San Francisco — issued by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. San Francisco comes by no surprise, but Medellin’s award demonstrates that any city can undertake such initiatives and make very impressive strides in the right direction.

Since Medellin implemented these sustainability changes, the city has also seen a drastic reduction in its crime rates — demonstrating clearly that sustainability and environment can, perhaps, have positive social impacts, too.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The city of Philadelphia is about halfway to acheiving its goal of becoming the greenest city in the U.S. Graphic: Office of the Mayor, City of Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia is about halfway to achieving its goal of becoming the greenest city in the U.S. Graphic: Courtesy of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia

Philadelphia is another city not often acknowledged for its environmental savvy. Yet, like Medellin, the city has demonstrated impressive improvements since 2008, when Mayor Mike Nutter vowed in his inaugural speech to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the nation.

Halfway through a six-year plan, the city is well on its way to meeting the 14 beginning initiatives that make up the plan. Included are ambitious goals like these:

  • lowering the city government’s energy consumption by 30 percent
  • reducing city-wide building energy consumption by 10 percent
  • diverting 70 percent of solid waste from the landfill, and
  • increasing tree coverage toward 30 percent in all neighborhoods by 2025

Given that Americans generated 250 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2010 alone, Philadelphia’s waste diversion initiative is particularly impressive. Most of the initiatives are nearly halfway to their six-year end goal, demonstrating a strong commitment to the mayor’s efforts.

Furthermore, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is helping the city reach its goals with its Wayside Energy Storage Project. Designed to replace electricity consumed by the city’s subway system with energy captured and stored through regenerative braking. This project is estimated to lessen electricity by 1,600 megawatts annually.

Again, diversely different, but equally inspirational, both Medellin and Philadelphia remind us that all cities have the opportunity to become global leaders in sustainability efforts.

Ashley Halligan

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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