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Paint the Town Green

by Jay Walljasper - Dec 18, 2008

Our planet is often described as a global village. But today that village looks bigger and more bustling than it once did.

At some point, either this year or next, the majority of people around the globe will live in urban areas rather than in the countryside. This makes it more crucial than ever that we find ways to keep our cities clean, green and livable.

Many green advocates now see creating sustainable communities as a major solution to problems such as global warming, loss of wilderness and out-of-control energy use. And savvy urban dwellers everywhere are working up ingenious plans to help heal the Earth. They are starting car-sharing programs, reusing abandoned buildings, farming in their backyards, joining community eco-teams, restoring urban streams and wetlands, commuting by transit or computer modem, cleaning up toxic dumps, strengthening the neighborly spirit of cooperation, and much more....

I've long been an ardent environmentalist, beginning with Earth Day clean-ups that captured my young imagination. But cities have always delighted me, too, ever since college when I first set eyes on the sidewalk cafes of Montreal.

I once worried these were contradictory passions, like being a vegetarian who loves pork chops. But I have come to understand that cities are simply another form of ecosystem--a diverse, dynamic human habitat full of potential for environmental innovation.

Working as a journalist, I have been lucky enough to get paid to pursue my passion: finding real-life examples of how we can save the planet in our own backyards. As editor of Utne Reader magazine for many years and now as roving writer for Ode magazine and senior fellow at the green urbanist group, Project for Public Spaces, I've explored Moscow and Milwaukee, Santiago and Seattle, cities along the Amazon, Rhine, and Ohio rivers. And I come back each time with exciting news: the same qualities that make communities sustainable also make them more interesting, comfortable, uplifting places to live. That's the theme of my new book, The Great Neighborhood Book ($19.95, New Society Publishers, 2007),which is filled with stories of how everyday people improve their communities and their own lives at the same time.

That's also the unmistakable conclusion my wife, Julie, and I have drawn from years of working on community projects here at home in Minneapolis. What's good for the environment--whether a bike trail, new parkland, green development projects or community revitalization initiatives--turns out to be good for the city, helping it thrive economically and culturally.

I am thrilled to launch The Ecopolitan blog all about green cities, and I look forward to hearing about what's going on in your hometown. Block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, we can restore the Earth.