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2007 03 07
Canada’s Top Five Sustainable Cities

The Corporate Knights team just finished ranking Canada's cities by their sustainability index. Here are the top five cities--number five might surprise you:

Le grand village

Dogged consistency across the range of indexes lifted picturesque Quebec City to the top of our ranking. It landed in the upper half of the pack in every index, and was in the top five in Community, Water and Waste and Household Indexes. Maybe because of that famous French joie de vivre (it's just happier here), the city enjoys the second lowest violent and property crime rates. Then again, maybe it's simply too cold six months out of the year for criminal minds to venture out of doors. Luckily, housing is affordable. Quebec citizens spend only 16.6 per cent of their income on housing. Quebec youths in secondary and elementary school enjoy the smallest average class sizes in our ranking at 12.6. This middling-sized city boasts super-size community services, with enough teachers, schools, water and waste facilities and bike paths to keep its citizens healthy and happy.


Our nation's capital scored well in almost every index, coming in 0.9 points behind the former capital of New France. Ottawa is the most educated city in our ranking--a good thing considering many of its citizens run the country. Over a quarter of Ottawa residents hold a university degree, and only 22.7 per cent lack a high-school diploma. All that higher education seems to have motivated Ottawaians to take an interest in the fate of our country. The city had the highest percentage of its population vote in the 2006 Federal Election. Only Calgary had more green space per 1000 people in 2002, though one might speculate Calgary has slipped behind Ottawa since then considering its massive, rapid population expansion. Tourists and residents can easily explore the many parks and other attractions of the National Capital Region by bike on its 610 kilometres of paths and lanes--the second-highest number in our ranking.


Sliding into third spot over-all, Kingston was the first capital of the union of Upper and Lower Canada. It seems heritage has some correlation to modern-day sustainability--chalk it up to civic pride. The third smallest city in our ranking in terms of population, Kingston also has the third smallest environmental footprint and is the third least toxic, though smog from its neighbours up, down and across the St. Lawrence settles in during the dog days of summer. Kingstonians enjoy a short commute of just 5.4 kilometres, and boast the most gender-diverse city council in our ranking--46 per cent of seats are filled by women. Kingston also has the most teachers and guidance councilors per 1,000 people at 9.61, and is home to three major post-secondary institutions: Queen's University, St. Lawrence College and The Royal Military College of Canada.


The southern Ontario town of Kitchener offers every one of its citizens sewage and waste-water treatment. Pair that with low water consumption at 390 litres/person/day and Kitchener finds itself at the top of our Water and Waste Index. That achievement plus high rankings in the Household and Labour Indexes helped land it in fourth place over-all. Kitchener residents are the least likely to earn a low income--only 11.3 per cent suffer from poor wages--and Kitchener has the second-highest workforce participation rate in our ranking at 72.8 per cent. All this cash helps residents get in the real-estate game. Kitchener's 66.7 per cent home ownership rate is the highest in our ranking. It's weakness? Air pollution--the Achilles heel of municipalities in the Golden Horseshoe. If the July air was sweeter, maybe there'd be some indignation about the lack of bike paths--Kitchener has only 125 km of them.

Heart of the New West

The oil boom boosted employment and wages in the burgeoning city of Calgary, vaulting it to the top of our Labour Index and into fifth place over-all. Calgarians are enjoying high wages, the lowest unemployment rate in our ranking at 3.9 per cent, and the biggest drop in the incidence of low income--5.7 per cent from 1995 to 2005. It's reasonable to expect unemployment is even lower these days, and rumours of fast-food chains doling out hefty pay-checques abound. Calgary's biggest challenge is to transform its exploding city into a sustainable one. The opportunity to provide an example of profitable, sustainable growth is unprecedented, but already sprawl is becoming a problem and the cost of housing is climbing. Minimizing Calgary's large environmental footprint will be pivotal, but hopefully with the third highest percentage of university graduates at its disposal, innovation will rule the day.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 03/07 at 04:16 PM

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