Glimpse Of A Green City

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Glimpse Of A Green City

Natalie Wang, Staff

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A quick Internet search pulls up some of San Francisco’s most treasured landmarks: the ever-classic Golden Gate Bridge, the lazy sprawl of Lombard Street’s hydrangeas, the briny angles of Pier 39. Postcards are stamped with some of the most refreshing views along the West Coast. Gauzy paintings flare up the bay at dusk and engorge the city at dawn. A glimpse into San Francisco’s inner workings reveals hectic cable cars, sloping streets and thousands of pedestrians strolling by duplexes stacked like candy cottages. 

It’s an artist’s living dream.

What the postcards or souvenirs don’t model are recycling containers, compost bins, reusable bags or brightly-marked bike lanes. Neon signs don’t point to thrift shops that use recycled clothing. Maps and tour guides don’t explain how some residents install solar panels across their roofs or quietly turn off the air conditioning when temperatures strike a perfect balance with their home’s interior. 

Welcome to San Francisco, a city that’s listed among the most eco-friendly urban areas in the world.

Environmental sustainability has been an issue in many places, especially metropolitan regions. Most major cities in the world succumb to the effects of population pressure, often facing increasing demands for new housing, transportation systems and more, creating millions of tons of trash annually. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, the average American generated over four pounds of waste per day, including food scraps, sewage and a bevy of single-use products.

It’s also worked its way into politics. Lack of sustainability is strongly correlated with climate change and global pollution and is frequently dredged up in political debates.

Despite an increasing amount of urban development, San Francisco can still safely latch onto its green reputation. A cursory glance down a San Franciscan street reveals vibrant graffiti and a plethora of shops spanning gently angled roads. Buses and other public transportation are as common as cars. Sidewalks are strewn with bikes and electric scooters for residents to rent. Sales of plastic water bottles are banned during holiday celebrations. The majority of taxis feed off alternative fuel. If it’s not natural parks greeting you at the corner, then it’s compost and recycling bins bracing the typical trash can. In a city full of mobile people, the air is bereft of smog.

San Francisco’s eco-friendly achievements are a testament to its inhabitants’ efforts. Local residents are the driving force behind the city’s conversion to green, having plenty to chip in on its environmental sustainability and status.

Cameron Charnoff, 34, a property manager who walks his dog in Golden Gate Park, said that he makes efforts to reduce his waste water.

“When I turn on a shower, when it’s heating up, I put a bucket under and I go water the plants with that,” he said.

Robert Weisblatt, 69, said him and his wife use reusable bags, keep their house’s heat low to conserve natural gas and utilize an electric stove.

While it is San Francisco’s name that worms itself into recommended eco-friendly places, the wave of going green doesn’t just exist within the city’s limits. San Francisco’s influence has spread into its surrounding suburbs and neighbors, including Stanford University. On its campus, the cafeteria uses reusable mugs and composts food scraps, and its bathroom signs remind users to cut their showers to five minutes or fewer.

Guillaume Basse, 30, recently began working at Stanford as a statistics professor.

“I’ve been on other campuses,” he said. “I’m not sure they were as eco-friendly.”

But like any metropolitan area, even the Bay Area has challenges with its eco-friendly reputation.

“There’s too much bureaucracy going on,” says David Bilyeu, 72, a retired retailer. 

Weisblatt pins the blame of obstacles to a sustainable urban environment on the higher systems of government, especially in a city known for its political landscape.

“It’s a worldwide problem. It’s very tough when you have the people in charge of the government say it’s not real,” he said. “The only way to make it better is to kick them out. Stop with the half measures.”

Basse agreed. 

“You know how people talk about single voter issues? I guess for me, that would be putting the environment first. It’s more than urgent,” he said. “There’s no way I can vote for somebody that disregards [this issue]. It’s something that has to be done at the local level, but there also needs to be a top-down. A general policy.”

Weisblatt said that in order for people to care about sustainability, they need to understand the impact of their actions. 

“You just have to talk to people about what’s going on where they are,” he said, “rather than just trying to convince them that this is a global problem.”


About the Writer
Photo of Natalie Wang
Natalie Wang, Staff

Natalie is a rising Junior at Clements High School in Houston, Texas. She enjoys creative writing and occasionally writes for her school newsletter. In...

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Glimpse Of A Green City