Madison Named America’s Greenest City

Story by Jordan Cover
Photo from Scott Havice

Madison is a city that prides itself on being environmentally friendly. Many residents would take that assertion one step further, going as far as to call it the greenest city in America.

Now, according to at least one study, Madison can make it official.

The verdict comes from NerdWallet, a number crunching organization that primarily focuses on finance, but also applies statistical analysis to other areas of research. NerdWallet’s assessment, which places Madison atop a list of twenty-five environmentally conscious cities, bases its rankings on four major categories: median air quality index, number of parks per 10,000 residents, excess fuel consumption (gallons per commuters), percentage of population using alternative transportation (walking, biking, carpooling, public transportation) or working from home

Madison’s most impressive statistic is its 12.7 parks per 10,000 residents, easily besting Cincinnati (2nd at 10.9) for the top spot in that category. The city’s efforts to establish parks and preserve natural areas within city limits are not going unnoticed.

“Madison is literally ‘green,’” NerdWallet analyst Sreekar Jasthi said. “The Madison area is home to over 15,000 acres of lakes and more than 200 biking trails.”

With more than 200 parks and 176 playgrounds, the city’s legacy of commitment to its parks and open spaces dates back to the late 1800s, when a private, citizen-led group purchased and donated the land for Madison’s first parks.

Madison’s designation as the greenest city in America cites its well-rounded resume in addition to parkland, also posting strong results in the other three categories. With a Median Air Quality Index of 41, only 10 gallons of excess fuel consumed per customer and 38 percent of its residents using alternative transportation, Madison finished with an above average ranking in all four categories.

Madison’s overall score of 73.52, which beats second place Anchorage by more than seven points, has earned the attention and captured the enthusiasm of city officials.

“We are excited about living up to the high standards city residents expect,” interim parks superintendent Eric Knepp said.

For a longtime presence like Mayor Paul Soglin, however, Madison’s ability to meet lofty expectations comes as no surprise. Soglin credits city staff, parks staff and the Madison Parks Commission for Madison’s recognition.

“They’ve done an outstanding job for decades in making Madison the greenest city in the country,” Soglin said.

Renewing the Legacy