“Toronto greenest big city”? Um, not quite

“Toronto greenest big city”? Um, not quite

A new report from the magazine Corporate Knights has ranked Toronto’s cities by a number of factors, and found that Toronto is the greenest city in the category of “large cities.” So, inevitably this gets a bit of crowing from Toronto’s chattering classes: the Globe and Mail, BlogTO, both cheered the news. Even the city of Toronto itself got in on the triumphalism. While the Globe notes that Toronto lags behind Vancouver, there’s something that should set off anyone’s spidey-sense: the Corporate Knights report ranks Vancouver as a “medium city” instead of a large one—but the list of “large cities” includes Ottawa and Edmonton. Huh?

The culprit for this seems to be that the report is ranking cities strictly by the population of their municipal boundaries, and not some broader metric like the metro area. This is especially relevant because we’re pretty sure (and we invite correction on this) that Vancouver never went through the amalgamations that Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal all have.  So Vancouver—which Statscan gives an “urban area” population of almost 2 million—is considered a “medium city” at 578,000, while Ottawa is considered “large” (Ottawa-Gatineau urban area: 800,000.)

Does this make sense? Because the report relies on municipal data, and “governance” is a key part of their index (municipal governance obviously ends at the city limits), it’s certainly arguable. Still, political lines are pretty arbitrary, and it’s not like the environment cares whether someone lives in Vancouver or Burnaby. We could be accused of nitpicking here, but when newspapers run headlines that refer to Toronto’s green initiatives as “top-ranking,” it certainly gives the impression that Toronto is, well, tops (for now—the Globe warns that the policies that have put us highish on the list may get cut). And when the city gets in on the act we start to get suspicious. We appreciate the boosterism, but looking at the report it’s pretty clear we got beat by Vancouver and were handed the gold medal on a technicality.

• 2011 Sustainable Cities results [Corporate Knights]
• Toronto’s top-ranking green initiatives on cost-cutting Mayor’s radar [Globe and Mail]
• Morning Brew: Toronto is Canada’s top-ranking sustainable city [BlogTO]
• ’Burbs bigger greenhouse gas emitters than inner city [Toronto Star]

(Images: Toronto, b.m.a.n.; Vancouver, Alan Bruce)