Green-ranking cities: tricky business

Looky here: Another ranked list of American cities. This one’s all about who’s greenest among our fair nation’s 50 largest towns. It’s published by, and I spotted it on the New York Times blog Dot Earth. If you want to get a quick taste of how complex a task it actually is to rank major urban areas on their so-called sustainability, read the comments on that post as well as SustainLane’s explanations of their methods. We’re talking some serious visual aids and some serious statistical angst, people.

I bring it up for a few reasons. One, please notice that while our mid-Atlantic neighbors Baltimore and Washington make a halfway decent showing (numbers 10 and 15 respectively), Virginia Beach is hanging out down there at number 45. Ponder that next time you’re lying on your towel, catching some UV rays.

Two, here in Charlottesville, we are not strangers to the odd power wielded by these rank-ordered lists. If zillions of retirees can relocate here, warping our housing market and our performing-arts schedule in the process, simply because Charlottesville appeared on a few lists of pleasant places to live, then surely a city might be harmed or bolstered by a lowly or lofty ranking on the green list. How’d you like to wake up in #50 Mesa, Arizona the morning after this thing was released? (On a tangential note, apparently UVA is the greenest university in the state. Okeydoke.)

Charlottesville, of course, is too small to be on this particular list, but one can easily imagine a similar project ranking your Burlingtons, your Biloxis and your Renos. What quartile do you think we deserve to occupy on a list of the 50 cities closest to our size? Remember that SustainLane considers not only "Green Building" and "Local Food/Agriculture"—in both of which, I’m guessing, we’d score fairly well—but "Air Quality" and "Housing Affordability." Whoops!


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