I grew up in the 60s in the back-to-the-land movement. We cherished the earth and moved to rural areas to farm, be self-sufficient, and grow communities. We wanted to connect with each other and the land. We looked down on cities as places of evil – crime, pollution, crowds, concrete, and no community. Many of us were from upper middle class homes in the suburbs, and when we rebelled, we chose a country lifestyle instead of the city.
Today, city living isn’t seen as evil anymore. As it turns out, green living in the city is pretty easy. To be gentle on the planet, reduce your carbon footprint, and lead a well-rounded life for psychological well-being, move to a city!
1. Density and better land use
When living centers are heavily populated and planned with mixed-use neighborhoods (residential combined with commercial), the space is used more efficiently. Consider a square mile of a suburb and a square mile of a city. Which has a better use of space? There are more activities in a city square mile, making it more efficient.
2. Public transportation, extensive bike lanes, and walking paths
Good public transportation eliminates the need for you to own a car. Traveling by bus or train, you save money on insurance, gas, parking and car repairs. There are fewer emissions per person when there are hundreds packed into one mode of transportation. As with public transportation, if you can walk or bike anywhere, you will not need a car. In the country or suburbs, you need to get in your car to run errands or get to work.
3. Recycling centers and recycle/reclamation programs
Many good-sized cities now have full recycling programs. Smaller communities lack this option or services are limited.
4. Green spaces
Urban planners and city governments are getting smart to the advantages of green spaces. Parks, nature preserves, botanical gardens, waterways and greenbelts soften the harshness of a city, reconnect people to nature and become social gathering places, teach environmentalism and offer psychological well being for residents. Aside from the added beauty, green spaces also absorb rainwater runoff, prevent soil erosion, cool the city, and turn CO2 into oxygen.
5. Urban gardening or farming, and farmer’s markets
City codes are changing to allow residents to grow food and keep livestock. You may be able to dig up your yard for a small vegetable patch, or you can grow in containers on your balcony or porch. If you can’t grow in your own yard, look for a community garden. Whether you can grow at home or not, farmer’s markets are sprinkled throughout cities. Farmers come in from the country and sell fresh, organic produce. Buying local for a wide variety of goods is easier in cities.
6. Job opportunities closer to home
There are more jobs and a larger variety in a city. Pay is generally higher, too, than a suburban job. Your commute is likely to be shorter, saving you money and reducing emissions at the same time.
7. Accessible nightlife, culture, and social services
There are an unlimited number of things to do when you want to go out with less fuel to burn to get to them. There is a lot of stimulation and inspiration in a city only a short journey away from home. Art abounds in a city. A large variety of music, theaters and museums offers an education in itself. A city provides more libraries, recreation and medical services than a suburb or rural area. You may not be able to find all of these in one place, so decide on what suits your needs best.
Despite my 60s rebellion, my most memorable homes were in small cities or towns with plentiful services and walkability. Even owning a car, I preferred to walk to work and shopping. There is so much to take in as you walk through your town! People, neighborhoods, back alleys, architecture – I was never bored on foot.
A city does not have to be large to suit your green living needs. Downtowns of smaller cities are being revitalized to draw people in. Urban planners are reinventing the wheel. Downtowns used to be vibrant, until suburban sprawl took the life out of them. Now planners are going back in time to recreate the era when the city center was the hub of activity economically and socially.
As it should be.