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Are Green Cities Sitting on a Golden Goose?

Copenhagen's leadership in urban sustainability gives them more than just a shining reputation. Bruce Katz considers how cities can cash in on environmental innovation.
April 26, 2012, 11am PDT | Ryan Lue
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Quick – what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Copenhagen? If you answered "bicycles," you're not alone. But the Danish capital is about more than just two-wheelers; it's blazing trails in every aspect of urban sustainability, from energy efficiency to environmental governance.

And it's not just about Mother Earth. "Growing green is obviously an environmental imperative," writes Katz. "Yet the Copenhagen experience shows that it can be a market proposition as well, with a diverse set of economic and fiscal benefits."

That is to say, Copenhagen's red-blooded green economy has been a real boon for the city, according to a recent report from Scandinavian thinktank Monday Morning. "Copenhagen's clean sector has been a critical contributor to the region's economy in the past decade, with green exports outpacing all other sectors by growing at an astounding 77% between 2004 and 2009" – not to mention the $380 million in annual healthcare savings brought on by the city's countless bicycle commuters.

And there are ample opportunities for American cities to follow suit. Perhaps not surprisingly, Portland already has, with "business formation, firm expansion, job growth, and private investment" in the green sector.

Katz concludes that leading the charge in providing these services is critical to developed nations finding a place in an evolving global economy. Nations like China and India "will demand products and services that enable development that is economically supportive, environmentally sensitive and spatially efficient. And those products and services may disproportionately emerge from firms located in cities... which are first movers on sustainable development."

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Published on Monday, April 23, 2012 in The Guardian
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