New York – America’s Most Sustainable City: Who knew?

You wouldn’t know it by walking through the streets but NYC gets a pretty good rating.

By Jeff Vasishta September 15, 2016

Forget the paisley swirls of electric green and blue glistening in the sludgy discharge of the Gowanus Canal. Forget the cloying mix of asphalt and exhaust fumes of the BQE. And please disregard the blackish, vulcanized glaze of chicken grease and trash bag leakage on the hot corners of Atlantic Avenue. Yes, banish those lovely images from your mind because, despite all thoughts to the contrary, New York City is America’s most sustainable city.

Related: Plot Twist: Developer Do-Gooder In NYC

That is the learned opinion from Arcadis, the leading global design and consultancy for natural and built assets. From 22 North American cities measured, NYC tops San Francisco (6th), Boston (5th) and Seattle (7th). They based their index on three measurements of sustainability—People (social), Planet (environmental) and Profit (economic). The overall index also factors in 32 subsections including things like income inequality, education, crime, affordability, energy, consumption, green space, transportation, economic development and employment.

New York gets its head of steam from its nearly nine million residents along with its position as an international hub for commerce, topping the Profit category. It also ranks higher than other cities for environmental efforts. But NYC hits an iceberg when it comes to the People category. Gotham drops to number 15 in North America and 77 worldwide due to the high cost of housing and a high consumer price index. Noted in NYC’s favor are the steps that the Mayor’s office has taken towards raising the minimum wage by 2019 while providing more affordable housing and better access to early childhood education.

Zurich - #1 sustainable city in the world. Photo courtesy of WWF Global
Zurich – #1 sustainable city in the world. Photo courtesy of WWF Global

It picks the pace back up again in the Planet category because of the Big Apple’s efforts to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse emissions. Although many of NYC’s transit hubs (Port Authority, Penn Station) are in a dire need of an upgrade, the city has made efforts to improve rail lines (2nd  Avenue subway, Jamaica, Queens station). Like New Jersey, New York suffered considerable damage from Hurricane Sandy but scored points because of its flood protection systems.

Of course, the big drawback for sustainability in New York is affordability. Six or seven years of stratospheric house price increases have made the term “affordable housing” something of an oxymoron. The irony is that an increasingly health and diet conscience populous (organic vegetables and artisanal eating comes with well-heeled residents) helps the city score points in the People and Planet categories.


New Yorker’s shouldn’t be too quick to pop the Champagne bottles, though. When it comes to world rankings, Europe streaks past the US like Usain Bolt in second half of the 100m. It has 16 of the top 20 positions. Zurich is #1 on the globe because of its reputation as a livable, environmentally conscious city with a highly organized transit system. It’s also a European center for finance. But it’s expensive and the city is notorious for work/life balance issues with its wealthy residents.

While NYC can be proud of US ranking, Europe shows us we still have a long way to go.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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