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Tale Of Two Cities

What Portland And Denver Are Doing For Sustainability

By Tracey MacDermott

GPHC, Inc. Board Chair

A year ago the Sustainability Cities Index released the rankings of cities around the globe. The September, 2016 rankings are based on the following three categories: people, planet and profit. Not one American city made the top 10.

New York is the first U.S. city to appear on the report, at No. 26. Denver landed at No. 49. One city that is not mentioned in the report but is leading the way in sustainability is Portland, Oregon. Travel and Leisure magazine has ranked Portland as America’s No. 1 green city: “Portland was environmentally proactive long before it was cool – like when the city took out a six lane highway in the 1970s to develop a waterfront park.”

In 2014, Denver’s population was larger by about 43,000 people with a slightly larger land mass. I decided to compare these two cities. Both have published sustainability goals and are working on these efforts.

Discouraging Demolitions

There is a recent push towards a brick-by-brick approach when taking down homes here in Denver. Portland already has legislation that requires maximizing the salvage of valuable building materials for reuse. This reduces carbon emissions associated with demolition, reduces the amount of demolition waste disposed of in landfills and minimizes the adverse impacts associated with building removal. These requirements are for older and more historic structures.

Former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who left office in January, noted that the goal of this requirement was to preserve neighborhood character and affordability by discouraging demolitions. “Taking apart buildings in a way allows for salvaging valuable materials for reuse benefits our community, economy, and environment,” he noted.

I know we have concerned citizens here in Denver hoping to get a similar program started.

Denver recycling at 21 percent

The City of Portland has a goal to reduce waste and to raise the recovery rate to 90 percent by 2030.

Currently Denver’s recycling rate is hovering at 21 percent. The city’s 2020 goal is increase our rate to 84 percent. I believe our beautiful city can reach that goal if we all work to expand the recycling program.

Portland requires that all businesses recycle paper, plastic bottles, metal cans, and glass bottles and jars. Denver recycles does allow for recycling at residential homes of seven or fewer units, but does not require residents or businesses to recycle.

Consider speaking to businesses you frequent and ask them about their efforts to reduce waste and even mention our city’s Certifiably Green Denver program for business.

Reducing bottled water

Portland and Denver both provide assistance for event recycling and composting. Portland offers technical assistance, while Denver has a certification program for events. In fact, this year’s Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair has applied for the certification.

On Sept. 10, please come out to see what efforts to reduce our impact during this amazing community event (check out page 1 and pages 12-13 for details). Our efforts will include the Denver Water Truck helping to reduce bottled water use and a sustainability zone.

If you have a neighbor who is not recycling would you be willing to reach out to them and encourage this simple practice? If you don’t have a bin it is easy to sign up:

Goal to reduce emissions 80 percent

Denver does not have current data on the percentage of food that residents purchase that originates from Colorado. However, it has set a goal that by 2020 fully 20 percent of the food we consume will be grown in the state.

There are many ways you can help Denver reach this goal. These include joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, attending any one of many farmers’ markets, starting a community garden and seeking out local produce in grocery stores.

In March when President Trump announced his Executive Order to slow clean energy, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock immediately responded. He highlighted our city’s aggressive goal to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050, and vowed we would continue a leadership role in growing a clean energy economy.”

By contrast, Portland was the first U.S. city to create action to cut carbon. Their plan – like Denver’s – is to reduce carbon emissions by 2050 by 80 percent.

Both communities have the ability to reach these goals but each will need the commitment of citizens to get out of their cars.

The green six miles

Per Denver’s city website, we currently have more than 100 miles of multi-use trails, 100 miles of bike lanes, 39 miles of sharrows (shared lane markings) and almost 400 miles of signed bike routes. If getting on your bike or walking isn’t feasible, you can also save money by using RTD.

Portland, meanwhile, has started a Green Loop. This is a 6-mile signature linear park around the city’s urban core that promotes walking, biking and public transit. It has an open space concept in the middle of the loop.

The city has invited designers to help create the circular open space concept.

Achieving quirky status

Portland is part of a Sustainable City Government Program, which helps cities save money, reduce carbon emissions and create a healthier more equitable workplace through technical assistance and advocacy.

Per their website, Portland has saved $61 million in utility bills since 1991. Carbon emissions have fallen 17 percent below 2006 levels, despite a growing population and economy.

Denver has a goal to reduce our emissions by 2020 to below 1990 levels. We did show a slight reduction in emissions over the last few years, with a boom in population.

There is a popular phrase about Portland: keep it weird. If being Green helped them achieve that status, I think Denver will too achieve its own quirky status. Please check at the Love This Place section on Denver’s website in the Office of Sustainability section, at and join our city’s efforts.

Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the Registered Neighborhood Organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017.

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