From an urban forest infused with hiking trails to wetlands housing endangered plants and animals, the natural beauty of Eugene, Oregon, provides a scenic backdrop befitting America's greenest city.
Nestled between the Willamette and McKenzie rivers in central Oregon, the city has adopted aggressive environmental policies aimed at conserving energy, using alternative fuels and fostering an industry of green businesses.
Nonetheless, Eugene struggles with many of the same problems facing other growing US cities: urban sprawl, congested roadways and limited public transport.
"If you compare us to many communities, we're ahead of the game. But we know that it's just baby steps compared to what is possible," said Eugene city manager Dennis Taylor.
By 2020, Eugene aims to be carbon neutral in its buildings and operations, by which the city means it will offset its carbon dioxide emissions with conservation, energy efficiency or spending on a form of renewable energy.
Carbon dioxide, a byproduct of combustion, is the main greenhouse gas blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing global warming.
Promoting high-density housing and less automobile use is not an easy political move, but city officials hope to appeal to the environ-mental passions of its 146,000 residents, a fervor once described by the Los Angeles Times as "virtually a religion."
The Green Guide, an environmental newsletter, ranked Eugene at the top of its survey of America's most ecofriendly cities in 2006, based on criteria like air quality, recycling, green space and transport.
Austin, Texas, was runner-up and Portland, Oregon, came third.
Eugene's vision is to transform the city's town centre into a more vibrant area with mixed commercial- and residential-use buildings to stem city sprawl, while buying up land for new parks and bike paths.
Voters approved a $27.5 million (£14.1 million) bond in November to purchase land to build new parks, upgrade existing ones and expand hiking trails. Green space already accounts for 16 per cent of Eugene's land.
Connecting it all will be the city's new rapid transit system of large hybrid-electric buses that run in dedicated lanes with special traffic signals to guarantee consistent commuter times similar to train travel.
The first line starts operation in early 2007 linking downtown Eugene with neighbouring Springfield. More routes are planned in the coming years.
For decades, Eugene's economy, like much of the US Pacific Northwest, tracked the boom and bust cycles of the timber industry. When timber supply began to decline, business leaders blamed environmental activists pushing conservation policies and environmental lawsuits.
While timber still remains a staple industry in the area, Eugene mayor Kitty Piercy says business and the environment are no longer in opposing corners.
"People used to say you can't be good for business and protect the environment at the same time," said Piercy, a former state lawmaker who became mayor in 2005. "That is absolutely not the truth."
Dubbed a "green Silicon Valley" by The Green Guide, Eugene wants to become a hub for a broad spectrum of environmen-tally friendly businesses ranging from renewable energy to reuse and recy-cling.
One such business is SeQuential Biofuels, which opened an all-inone renewable fuel station in Eugene offering a variety of alternatives to petroleum including several biodiesel and ethanol options.
Want a snack for the road? Try the organic bakery inside the SeQuential Biofuels' station.
For now, SeQuential's best customer might be the city. Eugene's entire fleet of diesel vehicles including heavy machinery and fire engines run on a biodiesel blend. Nearly two-thirds of its 400 automobiles are hybrids and, soon, the entire fleet will be hybrids.