The annual contest to crown Europe’s most environmentally friendly city seems, to my mind, a little misguided. Clearly the greenest city is the tiniest, most remote one with no electricity, no espresso, and no labor disputes involving flaming tires. It’s the city tucked into a hillside with three people on unicycles sharing one waffle made by a free-range goat.
But…given that the European Commission currently weighing the 2012 eco-candidates has insisted on short-listing eight finalists with baseline carbon footprints the size of Henry Ford’s, these are the eight cities garnering praise and attention. Most have been reviewed by every travel magazine and Al Gore website from here to…wherever the internet and Al Gore end. And yet I feel it’s my duty—as an observant, mentally functioning human—to point out that several of the finalists have potentially troubling issues and should be removed from the running faster than an NRA member at a lesbian beauty pageant…
This seaside city in Western France certainly scores points for its name, which calls to mind all things technologically slow: bugs, Nanas, and your mother’s elderly sister. And Time Magazine did name Nantes 2004’s “Most Liveable City”—assuming, of course, that one speaks French. It’s unlike Time to miss something so obvious, but apparently they were focused on factors like good looking mayors and buttered baguettes. The reason Nantes concerns me is because of how intensely it’s taking this competition. The city has always had a strong educational system, but has recently begun sending its young children 1) to farms, 2) in the countryside, 3) with the express purpose of learning to grow their own food. Yes, food. Nantes has a festival called La Foile des Plantes (loosely translated, “Crazy About Plants”) and has a botanical museum dedicated to endangered foliage (loosely translated, “S’il Vous Plaît Get a Grip.”) It’s all too much. I’m declaring Nantes disqualified.
Of course Barcelona is green: everyone is too drunk to drive. Yet, from my experience, they’re mostly drunk on sangria, and flying all those oranges into town can’t be very eco-friendly. Citrus-rape of the planet aside, Barcelona does score green points for the fact that its most famous construction project (La Sagrada Familia) has been on hold for nearly a century. Not only is La Sagrada my favorite site in all of Western Europe (aside from the site of Italian soccer player Luca Toni shopping for milk while wearing a tank top), the one-of-a-kind cathedral has stood, gorgeously half-finished, since the day artist/architect Antoni Gaudí took a few steps backward into the street to get a better view of his burgeoning masterpiece and was promptly hit by a trolley car. He died and no one else could interpret his blueprints. But the trolley car was environmentally sound, and just think of all the tractor gas that’s been saved ever since. Barcelona also scores points for having fostered social cohesion in local parks and squares, and having designated a large number of “People Spaces” around the metropolitan area. Although by “social cohesion in parks and square” they mean the gay underground, and by “People Spaces” they mean “dive bars inside youth hostels.” Either way, Barcelona is definitely in the running.
Sounds like a company that manufactures pretentious T-shirts. But no, Malmö is a lovely city in Sweden that I’m concerned about in terms of its intentions. It seems little Malmö has only stepped up its green game to spite big sister Stockholm, who won Europe’s eco-contest in 2010. Envy might be a green emotion, but as a motivator for environmentalism it seems a little juvenile. Malmö is so invested in winning that it recently began encouraging residents to participate in bike riding by installing enormous, unsightly gray “cycle barometers” all over the city. They literally count you as you ride past—and that’s just creepy. Disqualified.
See above. Stockholm won in 2010 and incumbents are incredibly boring. I’ll also mention that one of the main issues Stockholm tackled in the run-up to the big 2010 win was noise pollution. I’d have to check with Mother Nature, but I’m not sure boom box volume is high on her To Do list. Overall—been there, won that, disqualified.
Hamburg has already been announced as the winner of the 2011 eco-contest, primarily due to the fact that its Prius-style tram literally stops in front of every resident’s front door. It takes seven weeks to get to work, but gas consumption is measured in midget-thimbles. Hamburg is so efficient it actually absorbs carbon monoxide from surrounding townships. But I worry that naming someone the winner, twice, for a contest-year still set in the future would reflect quite badly on the competition. It is also likely to discourage other cities who will very quickly find themselves uninspired to vie for titles to be awarded in the year 3000. So unless Hamburg does something extraordinary in the next few months—say, re-engineer cancer cells to fix Mickey Rourke and repair the damaged ozone layer—disqualified.
Any city located inside the country currently blanketing all of Europe in three meters of toxic volcanic ash…seriously disqualified. Yes, Reykjavik has an interesting system of utilizing the heat from natural hot springs to power toasters and whatnot. But such schemes are all fine and good until said toasters band together and shut down Heathrow Airport.
…where to begin.
As a humorist, it’s difficult to handle a subject/target both this easy and this touchy. So, in the interest of “Rising Above It”, I’ll settle for no comment. Although, in terms of this particular competition, I do have to disqualify Nuremberg for one simple reason: Despite the city’s heroic efforts to reduce waste, galvanize hippy activists, and foster long-term sustainability, the entire purpose of this contest is to encourage tourism, bolster the city’s image, and promote the region as a whole. And yet it is undoubtedly one of the great mysteries of modern times why, in the past fifty years, it hasn’t occurred to a single soul in the Nuremberg public relations department to change the name of the city.
I hear Goebbels Valley is also in need of a make-over…
This Basque-country entry simply proves my point. Nestled in the scenic Cantabrian Mountains, Vitoria-Gasteiz is green because it’s rustic, hard to get to, little visited, little populated, small enough to cross on foot, and no one there speaks English (resulting in less Seinfeld-watching and far less energy consumption). Plus Vitoria is also Spanish, so everyone there is drunk too. All-in-all, unfairly positioned over the other contenders. Disqualified.
And the winner is…
Barcelona. Reviewing all evidence presented thus far, Barcelona is the only city not disqualified based on its current orientation, imagination, lack of evil side effects, and overall reasonableness of approach. That being said, Barcelona is now immediately disqualified based on its hosting of the 1996 Olympics, which caused more trash, toxins, pollution, construction, weird sports, bad dancing, crotchety medalists, closeted track stars, and general eco-nightmarishness to outlast all actions the city has taken ever since.
In fact, I feel that someone, at some point, should point out to the European Commission and all interested followers of this high-profile Eco-Challenge the following conundrum: Winning this contest will improve the reputation of the winning city. People will admire it, notice it, and be more likely to visit. And yet one transatlantic airline flight emits more CO2 into the atmosphere than could be made up for by a lifetime of recyclable shopping bags and low-flow toilets. To truly support the environment one must vote for a winning green city and then swim there—preferably with a compact fluorescent light bulb clenched between their teeth.
Be sure to steer clear of the Gulf oil spill.
Good luck. And travel hard, my friends.