Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of sustainable communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2014 installment: 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.
Lincoln, Nebraska. Despite more than a quarter-million residents, Lincoln manages to maintain its hometown feel. Its extensive bike paths and multiple community gardens bring neighbors together. At last count, 45 neighborhood associations were registered within the city limits.
As home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska’s state government, Lincoln has all the attributes and activities of both a college town and a metropolitan center, with fewer big-city problems, according to Tim Rinne, a 40-year Lincoln resident and state coordinator for Nebraskans for Peace. Rinne says Lincoln embodies the state’s new tourism campaign, “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” — not in a bland or boring way, but as a place where life is good and residents give thoughtful attention to its quality.
“There’s an operating assumption here that people will behave civilly in public,” Rinne says. “The ‘nice’ part would be hokey if it weren’t true. The multicultural, mixed-income nature of our historic neighborhoods gives our ‘nice’ Nebraska lifestyles a sense of authenticity. It’s why I’ve lived here nearly 40 years and never mean to leave.” (For more on Rinne’s neighborhood’s approach to sustainability, see Homestead Hamlets.)
Lincoln boasts a diversified, stable economy, with an unemployment rate below 3 percent. In addition to state government and the university, prominent industries include banking, information technology, call centers and insurance. A tech boom is under way and the Lincoln-Omaha area is sometimes referred to as the Silicon Prairie. Compared with larger cities, wages are low, but Lincoln consistently tops lists of the nation’s healthiest and happiest cities, showing that positive lifestyle factors, such as a manageable cost of living and lower stress levels, offset the lower pay scale. To make things even better, the city launched a “Cleaner, Greener Lincoln” initiative to put Lincoln at the forefront of environmentally sustainable cities.
Lincoln has an excellent trail system for walking and biking, and the city is installing bicycle lanes in the downtown area. Numerous parks dot the city, providing ample opportunity for outdoor recreation and connection with nature.
In recent years, gardening has taken hold, and Community CROPS (Combining Resources, Opportunities and People for Sustainability) is helping increase the ranks of Lincoln gardeners. The group started in 2003 with one community garden and now includes 13 garden sites, a training farm, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, a farmstand, six staff members and a corps of volunteers.
Djuka Selendic, site coordinator for the CROPS Antelope Community Garden, says the organization has expanded her garden know-how, and has earned the “community” part of its name. “I’ve lived in Lincoln since 1996, when I emigrated from my home country of Croatia,” Selendic says. “Involvement in CROPS has provided me with so many new friends — and many new recipes.”
The city has been proactive in approving front-yard food gardens and has even given a green light to those who want to garden in the public right-of-way between the sidewalk and curb. In most places, this hard-to-manage, narrow tract is called the “hellstrip.” The nice people of Lincoln might call it the “heckstrip.”
Stats: Lincoln, Nebraska
Climate: 29” annual avg. precip.; January avg. high: 37 degrees F; July avg. high: 85 degrees F
Median Household Income: $49,504
Median Home Price: $142,200
K.C. Compton is an editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publication, GRIT. She has visited 44 U.S. states, and sees great places and meets great people everywhere she goes. Find her on Google+.