America’s Greenest City

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Wide angle image of the International Rose Tes...

Wide angle image of the International Rose Test Gardens in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soon, the trees will turn from the gnarled, bare-branched, forbidding sculptures they become during the winter months to the bright, cheerful, shade-providing and bird-filled symbols of spring. After a long, dreary winter, it will be a dazzling sight: green grass at our feet, the green canopy of leaves over our heads, and the delicate green stems of the daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips that paint a spring landscape.

It’s no wonder that these beautiful scenes inspire many cities to try and protect them, and no city is doing that better than Portland, Oregon. Portland has been singled out many times over the years for their commitment to sustainability, and Portland was most recently named “America’s Greenest City” by Mother Nature Network, beating out such powerhouses as San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, and Berkeley.

Portland is known for its coffee, its food carts, and its microbreweries, but it is also famous for being bicycle and pedestrian friendly. Portland has over 8,000 acres of protected natural areas that will never be developed. It is home to both the largest and smallest city parks in the US: The massive Forest Park is more than 5,000 acres, and the diminutive Mill Ends Park is a two-foot-diameter circle (where a leprechaun reportedly lives). Portland is considered one of the most walkable cities in the country, and its mass transit options include light rail, commuter rail, and streetcars.

Of course, most people in Portland prefer the two-wheel form of transportation: bicycling. As one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, more people bike to work here than in any other city in the nation, utilizing the more than 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes within the city. In 2012, the League of American Bicyclists, one of the country’s largest cycling organizations, named Portland a “Platinum-Level” city for cyclers — one of only three to be awarded its highest rank, with the other two being Boulder, Colorado and Davis, California.

The city of Portland offers not only recycling, but also composting. Residents are asked to save food scraps in containers and place the scraps in a bin, which is then collected weekly. This program definitely reduces waste, but it has another benefit: nutrient-rich fertilizer. The city also offers lessons in DIY sustainable food sources as well as classes in chicken keeping, beekeeping, container gardening, and even cheese making.

The Portland Farmers Market, which includes six different markets, recently began a green initiative of its own, EverGreen. This program diverts about 90 percent of waste to recycling and composting. The markets provide composting and recycling stations, and future plans include a customer education station and a website. The goal of this program is to make the Market the greenest, most sustainable farmers market in the United States and to reduce the Market’s ecological footprint to the greatest extent possible.

Portland is not only “green,” it is green. Residents are out on bicycles for a reason – who wants to be confined to a vehicle when there’s so much outdoor beauty to enjoy? And the residents of Portland have a lot to experience: whitewater rafting, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, fishing, and more. And in the winter, skiing is the rage – Mount Hood has the longest ski season in North America, and its 11,235-foot peak attracts not only skiers, but also snowboarders, ice climbers, and hikers. Visitors can also enjoy the four ski resorts as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

For the seriously adventurous, the Columbia River Gorge is the world headquarters for kite-boarding and windsurfing. (For the less adventurous, the Columbia River Gorge also features about 50 vineyards and over 30 wineries.) Forest Park is an ideal location for bird-watching and hiking, while the Hoyt Arboretum features the largest number of trees and shrubs of any arboretum in the country. The International Rose Test Garden is the oldest continuously-operating public rose garden in the US, and the Portland Japanese Garden is guaranteed to calm and inspire with its meandering streams and hidden coves.

As winter winds down, you may be inspired to visit America’s greenest city – you may even consider moving there. Either way, you are guaranteed an adventure. Just remember to bring along your bicycle, your hiking boots, your favorite coffee cup, and your reusable canvas shopping bags.