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Fargo, North Dakota

Fargo's fresh air makes this one of the cleanest, greenest cities on our list.

People don’t move to North Dakota for the weather. But for the hardy residents of Fargo, the area’s four seasons—each with its own activities, from hockey and ice fishing to softball and vegetable gardening—are a prime attraction.

“In the summer the weather here is beautiful,” says Greg Sanders, Ph.D., a professor of child development and family science at Fargo’s North Dakota State University. “There’s low heat and humidity, and people really get out and enjoy it. And in the winter—keeping in mind that many of the natives are from pretty healthy stock—it’s the same thing, especially cross-country skiing. That’s the spirit of this place—people tend to get out and make the most of whatever weather they get.” The city’s 18 outdoor ice-skating rinks all have heated warming houses. And the rolling prairies outside of town provide plenty of outdoor escapes.

But Fargo has urban pleasures, too. The renovation of its downtown district has made the area hip, with newer French cafés and ethnic restaurants mingling with the German, Russian, and Scandinavian diners the region has long been known for.

And surrounded by three major universities, the area is rich in medical facilities, entertainment—in particular, a wide range of performing arts—and college sporting events.

John Mark, 65, grew up here, and when he retires this year, the only big change he plans to make is to look for a little part-time work on a golf course. He’ll also step up his volunteer work, organizing charity tournaments. Although he has plenty of friends who have moved to Florida or Arizona, the prospect of being a snowbird leaves him cold. “The idea of packing up and going away for four months? I don’t need to do that—Fargo is just a good place to be.”

Plus, Fargo’s fresh air—and commitment to preserving it—makes this one of the cleanest, greenest cities on our list, with one of the best air-quality–index scores. It uses biodiesel fuel to power its transit buses, and it has made a serious commitment to incorporate methane-powered generators, solar panels, and wind generators into the city’s infrastructure. The city has even handed out cloth shopping bags to residents.

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