20 most innovative cities of the West
Young entrepreneurs here are not hesitant to try something new, city halls are taking on the environment at a grassroots level, and universities are challenging old ways of thinking.
“If there’s one thing that towns and cities should be doing right now, it’s experimenting,” says Jamais Cascio, author of Hacking the Earth. "If you look at the [successful] cities of the future, what you will see are those that are actively producing energy and food and information.”
That said, we declare the 2010s the Decade of Experimentation and the West its laboratory. Click ahead for 20 cities leading the way.Sunset | From the March 2010 issue
Spaceport America (think LAX for spaceships), funded by the state of New Mexico and now under construction in Las Cruces, is going to be the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world, and Virgin Galactic expects to be the first company to provide sub-orbital flights to the general public.
Liftoff is expected in the next five years.
Good work means a little play too: Boise Bicycle Project discounts bikes for residents (and teaches them how to fix their two wheels); and the ski area 16 miles from downtown, Bogus Basin resort, is a nonprofit, keeping extracurricular sports affordable. Life should be a balance.
It could be here that we’ll discover whether another planet is fit for colonization: JPL currently has 20 spacecraft and has explored all known planets within―and many planets beyond―our solar system.
On the horizon are more efficient, inexpensive solar panels that easily stick to laptop bags, cars, and roofs, turning urban areas from passive energy consumers into energy producers. The only electric vehicle for sale today is from the valley’s Tesla Motors, and Palo Alto–based Better Place is creating infrastructure for mass adoption of EVs, including building “charge spots.”
Pictured: The $109,000 Tesla Roadster is powered by a 400-volt battery pack and runs at least 200 miles before it needs to be plugged in for a recharge.
Architects like Rob Paulus and the husband-and-wife team behind Ibarra Rosano Design Architects are using materials like Rastra, made from 85% recycled Styrofoam; recycled denim and adobe in their ultra-modern homes and urban infill projects.
Next up: a large-scale mixed-use project from Ibarra Rosano that includes a 10-acre working organic farm; and from Paulus, modern live/work spaces in a dilapidated downtown building.
Instead of having food come to them, they’ve moved their kitchens to where the best food is produced: SLO County, with its 11,037 acres devoted to growing organic fruits and vegetables, plus more than 180 wineries, 96 miles of coastline, and artisanal producers of foods like honey, cheese, and olive oil.
The chefs, who operate the kitchens of the Range, Villa Creek, and Artisan, say they chose this spot because it’s a hub of agriculture.
At its center is Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo’s 18 different agricultural majors and 11 minors, including sustainable agriculture. The university runs a CSA off of its 11-acre organic farm and has a dairy and a creamery.
One day, residents may be able to take a zero-emissions bus to commuter rail and light rail (a combined total of 122 miles of new tracks are planned), then hop on a bike from Denver B-cycle, a citywide bike-sharing program, and arrive at a LEED-certified office building.
Portland is also a bike commuter’s nirvana, with 15,000 people pedaling to work. It has a standout food scene (with more farms and farmers’ markets than even Seattle, San Francisco, and Sacramento).
Okay, so it rains.
It may be only a building, but the design of mxd830 (short for “mixed use” plus the street address, 830) has nurtured community with a nightly buzz that attracts many and spreads energy down the once-derelict 25th Street corridor.
Its findings are shared through direct outreach and partnerships with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.
For starters, the company is creating boards from recycled material and testing alternatives to neoprene―the material in wetsuits―like organic rubber.
And the city of San Clemente is considering a pilot program for recycling surfboard waste, which can be used to make car bumpers and pave roads.
And that’s just the tip of it.
Since September 2008, the college has reduced its landfill waste by more than 97,000 pounds by expanding its composting efforts. And by the time they graduate, more than 70% of Evergreen students will have done community service and volunteer work to help the poor, feed the hungry, or improve the environment.
In Bellevue, WA, Intellectual Ventures is investing in an “invention economy,” where ideas are currency. Its scientists work in a lab that recycles equipment. Projects include a photonic fence that eradicates mosquitoes and a Strato shield that would lower global temps by increasing the amount of sulfur- bearing aerosols into the stratosphere.
In Boulder, CO, Rocky Mountain Institute seeks solutions to climate change that are both radical and realistic. By working with companies like Walmart to shrink corporate footprints, RMI is bringing the green movement into the mainstream.
In Corvallis, OR, Oregon State University is experimenting with using ocean waves to generate electricity. Prototypes are being designed and built now.
Wind farms in Lamar, CO are helping make Colorado one of the most wind-powered states in the West. The state’s wind potential alone could supply 9% of the entire country’s energy―that’s 67 million homes.
Phoenix, AZ has the nation’s largest city-sponsored residential solar financing program.