Sustainable living is becoming increasingly important across the United States, and the Midwest is home to several cities and towns that are leading the way in environmental stewardship and sustainable urban development. The most sustainable places to live in the Midwest are distinguished by their innovative approaches to energy efficiency, community engagement, and inclusivity in their sustainability efforts.
- Ann Arbor, Michigan, especially its Bryant neighborhood, is making strides toward becoming one of the most sustainable places in America. The neighborhood has seen significant reductions in energy costs due to home improvements, like the installation of solar panels, which have directly reduced the electric bills of residents like Deborah Pulk, who reported a decrease in her monthly bill from $145 to $24. This focus on energy equity is making a tangible difference in the lives of residents, demonstrating how sustainability can also drive social and economic benefits.
- Evanston, Illinois, is another standout city, located just north of downtown Chicago. Evanston has adopted an equity-centered approach to its sustainability plan, specifically targeting the needs of communities of color and low-income populations who are often disproportionately affected by climate hazards. The city has invested in energy efficiency programs for buildings, helping to reduce energy bills and promoting environmental justice through its policies.
- Indianapolis, Indiana, has made equity a central component of its sustainability initiatives as well. With its Thrive Indianapolis plan, the city has engaged in an extensive process to ensure that its policies serve all residents. This plan was created through equitable engagement, involving community events and outreach, and it includes programs such as the Income-Qualified Weatherization Program and the ECOHouse Project Loan Program, which provide support for energy efficiency improvements to low-income households.
- Bloomington, Indiana, has also emerged as a leader in sustainable living. The city has taken a community-centric approach to its sustainability action plan, involving a wide range of stakeholders in the planning process and establishing strong relationships with community members to promote energy efficiency. Bloomington has facilitated this through extensive outreach, collaborative planning, and by setting up low-interest loans for small-scale energy efficiency improvements in homes.
- Edina, Minnesota, a city just outside Minneapolis, stands out for its Energy Action Plan. This plan is notable not only for its energy efficiency targets but also for its comprehensive monitoring and reporting goals, which are crucial for measuring progress and ensuring accountability in sustainability initiatives.
- St. Paul, Minnesota, exemplifies environmental sustainability in the Midwest with its Climate Action & Resilience Plan. The city has set a target to achieve carbon neutrality in city operations by 2030 and aims for citywide neutrality by 2050. The plan includes robust actions to decrease emissions in every city sector, reinforcing St. Paul's commitment to reducing its environmental impact. These efforts to cultivate long-term resilience and enhance natural infrastructure are integral parts of the city's vision for a future less threatened by climate change.
- Madison, Wisconsin, is also a leader in sustainable living with its forward-thinking energy plan that seeks to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and minimize energy waste. The city's goal for 100% renewable energy and net-zero emissions by 2030 for city operations and 2050 community-wide showcases its dedication to a sustainable future. Madison's strategy involves enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and developing a more sustainable transportation system with initiatives like electric transit and better cycling infrastructure.
These cities in the Midwest demonstrate that sustainable living is not just about environmental actions but also about engaging communities, promoting equity, and providing economic benefits. They serve as models for other cities and towns in the Midwest and beyond, showing that with strategic investments and community involvement, sustainability can become a core part of urban living.