Our view of a city can be greatly influenced by how clean or dirty it is. It is one thing to have a hotel that is less than pristine, we can always move hotels, but if the city itself is dirty, it is hard to enjoy a holiday. Conversely, when a city is sparklingly clean it is a delight to be there. Add to that a healthy environmental policy and we feel good about visiting.
Massive strides have been made towards sustainability in recent years, prompted by fears of global warming and fuel resources running out. Many cities now have strict policies on water use, recycling, and air emissions. As this becomes a trend for municipal councils, it influences how the world views a city and can impact on sporting and cultural events. Governments and sporting bodies are less likely to offer an event such as the Olympics, to a city that is struggling to prove its environmental worth.
However, some cities suffer from severe natural disasters and poverty and little seems to impact their regeneration. Where poverty is rife, nature is unkind, and the city is struggling to survive, dirt and filth often follow, especially as populations increase and infrastructure struggles to cope.
20 Dirtiest: Port Au Prince, Haiti
Port Au Prince is a sprawling city comprising a large slum area on its hillsides. It suffered from an earthquake in 2010, resulting in the devastation of many buildings in the city. The city is also victim to various hurricanes, making it a dangerous place to inhabit.
The city, which is home to many factories, used to be a popular tourist destination and cruise ship stop, but that has tapered off in recent years due to trouble and lack of safety. Although there has been regeneration since the natural disasters, the city suffers from high unemployment and poverty, and many residents still live in tents or rubble.
19 Dirtiest: Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City and its environs are home to around 26 million people, with nearly 9 million in the actual city. It is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, and sits in the resulting bowl, making the air quality very poor. The pollution is compounded by industry and carbon emissions. There is a visible layer of smog in the city every day.
The population of the city has ballooned in recent decades and it has struggled to cope to support the influx of people. It has a reputation for being dangerous as a result of natural disasters, crime, and air pollution. There are also fears of corruption in the police and other government institutions.
18 Dirtiest: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The capital of Ethiopia is still part of a third world country, with some people having no access to a flushing toilet. It has a moderate crime level and Forbes found it to be the sixth dirtiest city in the world. The main reason for this finding was the lack of adequate sanitation, which means that infant mortality and child death rates are high.
Many inhabitants are living below the poverty line and there are many sex workers who are forced to work to try and feed themselves and their families. Slums and well-to-do residencies exist side by side in some parts of Addis Ababa, making it hard to avoid the dirt and poverty.
17 Dirtiest: Mumbai, India
Visitors report that Mumbai is one of the dirtiest places in India and that it seems seedy and somewhat dodgy in comparison to its neighboring cities. There is immense poverty and mutilated beggars inhabit many street corners.
Although it is India’s financial capital, many Indians come to Mumbai to make money with the plan of leaving as quickly as possible. This gives them less of a sense of municipal pride and this shows in their lack of respect for the cleanliness of the city. One commentator said that Indians have more of a sense of their rights and less sense of duty, which might go some way to explain the filth that is evident in the city.
16 Dirtiest: Baghdad, Iraq
Baghdad has seen more than its fair share of troubles over the years. This has doubtless contributed to the fact that it is now a very dirty city and the river Tigris that flows through it gets dirtier by the year. Much wastewater goes untreated and this leads to dangerous pollution of water and results in illness.
There is not sufficient infrastructure to deal with the cleanliness crisis, with hospitals and even an oil refinery tipping waste into the swollen river. Locals have been forced to rely on mobile water tankers at times to avoid getting ill from the local drinking water.
15 Dirtiest: Moscow, Russia
The Moscow region is home to a landfill crisis, which is polluting the area with potentially toxic waste. There is little or no recycling initiative in Moscow, and the increasing landfill sites are causing problems to locals and inhabitants of nearby towns, who sometimes have to rely on gas masks to avoid pollution.
Moscow doesn’t even have a reliable source of clean drinking water, and the air pollution compounds this issue with many Muscovites dealing with lung disease and other pollution-related illnesses. The problem is exacerbated in snowy weather when roads are sanded, which increases the dirt on the streets when the snow melts.
14 Dirtiest: Delhi, India
Many Delhi inhabitants take part in the habit of chewing paan, a Betel leaf parcel that might contain tobacco, and which is used as a palate cleanser. However, this leads to unsightly red marks on many sidewalks, where paan chewers have spat out red liquid after chewing the leaf.
Visitors report never-ending seas of rubbish in Delhi, with a lingering smell of sewage and rotting food. Wandering animals are a problem, with dogs and even cows roaming the streets and sifting through the rubbish. Delhi is a very overcrowded city as well, with numerous people and vehicles vying for space, which all adds to the feeling of untidiness and claustrophobia.
13 Dirtiest: Antananarivo, Madagascar
Antananarivo has problems with air pollution and also water quality, which puts it on the list of dirtiest cities. Another problem is inefficient garbage disposal that increases germs and smells on the streets. Although much of Madagascar is a tourist haven, Antananarivo is full of pollution due to industrialization and also as a result of deforestation in the area, which reduces the carbon-busting oxygen levels.
The capital of Madagascar is highly populated, and its internal resources cannot cope. This increases the drain on sanitation and increases pollution and is at odds with the tropical paradise that many people view as the island of Madagascar.
12 Dirtiest: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dhaka is the most densely populated city in the world and it struggles to offer adequate housing and sanitation to its inhabitants. It is common for people to urinate and even defecate in the street, and to drop litter wherever they like. Piles of litter build up and pose a huge health problem.
As the political, cultural and economic center of Bangladesh, Dhaka, attracts many rural immigrants, hence the problem of overcrowding is exacerbated. There is a lot of congestion in the city and an inefficient transportation system, leading to air pollution, among the other problems. The speeding rickshaws and cars also lead to many accidents, and begging is a huge problem in Dhaka, due to areas of extreme poverty, reminds Wikitravel.
11 Dirtiest: Linfen, China
In 2007, Linfen was declared the most polluted city in the world. There is a great deal of coal mining in the area that depreciates the air quality to the point that washing that is hung out to dry, turns black in the air. There are huge problems with respiratory disease in the city, with inhabitants breathing in ash and dust on a daily basis.
While coal remains the main source of fuel for China, Linfen and the surrounding area will continue to mine, and the air will continue to be polluted. Linfen has made efforts to improve the situation, with trucks spraying water on the streets to keep them cleaner, but it still remains a fact that life expectancy is shorter here than elsewhere in China due to lung diseases.
10 Cleanest: Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich is not only clean, but it has also been named the most sustainable city in the world. It is the financial and banking center of Switzerland and has a wealth of cultural delights, making it a popular spot for visitor and Swiss nationals searching for a living space.
Sitting on the north point of Lake Zurich, the city has undergone a facelift of late. It has a thriving nightlife, including a huge techno party that takes place every August. The streets of Zurich are immaculately clean and the mountain air is fresh, even the trams run on time.
9 Cleanest: Wellington, New Zealand
Lonely Planet named Wellington the coolest little city in the world. It is famous for its bars and restaurants, and with the farmland to its north and being on the coast of the ocean, it has an abundance of produce to select from.
The capital of New Zealand, Wellington, is a well-preserved city that looks after its natural treasures and doing all it can to be sustainable. Air pollution is greatly reduced by improvements to the public transport system, which is very well used. In fact, Wellington was voted the number one place to live in the world in a survey by Deutsche Bank in 2017.
8 Cleanest: Oslo, Norway
Although it is a very expensive city, Oslo is very well kept and extremely clean. It is a very green city and offers rentable bikes and an updated public transport system that helps keep the air clean. The city has an automatic trash system that collects trash underground, keeping sidewalks clean and tidy.
Cleaning up the city is a cultural norm for the residents of Oslo who also participate in regular clean-up days. It is situated between the mountains and the sea, giving it superior air quality from its natural environment. It has plenty of parks and outdoor spaces that all add to the feeling of cleanliness in the city.
7 Cleanest: Toronto, Canada
With low air pollution and good clean air, Toronto ticks the boxes when it comes to a good environment. It is also known for great restaurants and excellent coffee. Despite being a capital city it has a charming, friendly feel. The bays and hills give the city a feeling of space and fresh air. Toronto is an expensive city to live in, but the salaries are higher than the national average.
Toronto has been described as “New York City run by the Swiss” by Trip Advisor because of its world-class entertainment and superb restaurants, balanced by clean sidewalks and efficient transportation and friendly locals.
6 Cleanest: Brisbane, Australia
Brisbane is the capital of the ‘sunshine state’ of Queensland. On its South Bank, you will find a man-made beach, a subtropical rainforest and plenty of cultural points of interest, right in the middle of a city. It also has a beautiful Botanical Garden, if you crave nature and peace.
Brisbane has an amazing climate, as Nomads World reminds us, and it has really low air pollution and very clean air quality. Its super cleanliness is a matter of city pride, with high water quality and a high satisfaction level of its residents. The city has a population of over two million and yet maintains excellent levels of cleanliness, which is quite remarkable.
5 Cleanest: Portland, Oregon, USA
Portland is often voted the greenest city in America and has pioneered metropolitan redevelopment. It has many open green spaces that contribute to the air quality and the ambient atmosphere. It has a long-term view of sustainability and focuses on ensuring that the city will be able to support its population well into the future without comprising sustainability.
Public transportation has been regenerated and as much of it as possible is run with carbon emissions in mind. The city does not add fluoride to its water and this is fully supported by inhabitants who have voted on the issue.
4 Cleanest: Nottingham, the UK
Nottingham has won an award as Britain’s cleanest city and has made great strides towards improving cleanliness and pollution. The council has even introduced measures to ensure that noise pollution doesn’t upset local residents. They have also reduced carbon emissions to the extent that they won an environmental award.
The city has been the focus of a huge regeneration plan over the past decade, which has impacted the transportation and housing systems, as well as improving sustainability. Many areas and buildings that were falling into disrepair have been demolished to give way to new and exciting architecture and open spaces.
3 Cleanest: Kobe, Japan
Kobe is known as the cleanest city in Japan. The reasons for this include its effective waste disposal system that despite its 1.5 million residents, keeps it clean. Local residents are very keen on cleanliness and take their environmental responsibilities seriously. The Japanese are known to be obsessed with cleanliness and Kobe is no exception.
Quality of life is regarded as very good, with a superior education, health, and transportation systems. The city has plenty of green, open spaces and its sidewalks and shops are particularly clean. Kobe is also home to a specific type of cattle that produce the famous Kobe beef, which is praised by chefs for its tenderness and superior taste.
2 Cleanest: Singapore, China
Singapore is known as an expensive tax haven but is also a forerunner in financial and business matters. It is home to several nature reserves and the government has revealed an aim to make Singapore a ‘garden city’ to improve quality of life and preserve wildlife.
The number of private cars in Singapore is restricted to avoid pollution and the public transportation system is highly developed. The water quality is high, and Singapore recycles and desalinates water to preserve stocks. Improvements in water quality and sanitation mean that Singapore has one of the highest life expectancy figures in the world.
1 Cleanest: Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik is set in stunning natural surroundings from where visitors can be invigorated in hot thermal spas or see the northern lights. It is regularly voted the cleanest and greenest city in the world. It is a small city but maintains exemplary standards, and Iceland has been voted the most peaceful country in the world, according to Visit Reykjavik.
It has a provision called Reykjavik’s Green Eco Steps that offers guidelines to keep up the most environmentally friendly standards for the city’s institutions. Environmental issues are at the forefront of the city’s mission, with policies on recycling and reusing and the tagline ‘Reykjavik loves the earth.’