Cities are notorious for being dirty, polluted, crowded places with few trees, but endless cars. Smog is this gross layer of pollution that hangs over a city like a dirty old blanket. The more people, the more stuff. The more stuff, the more waste. The more waste, the more pollution. The more pollution, the fewer healthy ecosystems and overall loss of natural environment. Boo to that. Cities, however, are also beautiful places. They house opportunities for eager job seekers, produce mind blowing innovation, offer tight knit communities and abound with culture. As pollution and destruction of ecosystems gets worse, cities are slowly improving the way they function to lessen their impact on the environment. I am blessed to live in Seattle which is one of the pioneer cities promoting a greener urban lifestyle. However, regardless of what city you live in, here are some tips to help you live a more sustainable lifestyle amongst the smog.
12 Tips for Living Green in the City
1. Walk, Bike, Ride
One of the perks of city life is that everything is close. Do your best to find an alternative way of getting from where you are to where you want to go. I’m a big walker, so walking or running is definitely my main alternative. My husband has wiped the cobwebs off of his bike and now finds himself biking to and from work saving us money and reducing our emissions. Public transportation is another great option. The more people crammed onto a bus, the fewer cars on the road polluting the air. Buses, light rails, trolleys and subways are all available to you when your distance might be too far to walk or bike…or if the weather just flat out sucks. A newer alternative available in some cities is ride sharing. Ride sharing is similar to taking a taxi, but people like you and me are the drivers and they use their own car. They get paid to pick you up and drop you off where you want to go and you have the option of tipping the driver for the ride (which you should definitely do). Car2Go is another option for ride sharing where you reserve a Smart car, keys inside, you drive it, pay per minute and park it anywhere. When you’re done someone else can reserve it and so on and so on. For an even faster solution, Red Ride brings you the nearest ride without having to search through each ride sharing app individually. Carpooling with coworkers and friends is also a great way to reduce the number of cars on the road and pollution in the air. Leaving your own car behind whenever possible is a great way to reduce your impact, so try out some alternatives!
2. Take Advantage of City Parks
Parks offer free entertainment, free exercise and at times, incredible views. The noise, smells and sights of a city can be overwhelming. You’re constantly plugged in, running around and trying not to get run over or get a ticket (just me?). I urge you to unplug and go find a park full of trees and flowers. Parks are there for a reason. They are little oases, like finding water in a desert that will quench your thirst and rejuvenate your soul. My husband and I walk around a park in Seattle called Discovery Park at least three times a week. For four miles we feel like we’re hours from a city with amazing views of the Olympic Mountains, the calm waters of the Puget Sound and a long rocky beach complete with a small lighthouse on the point. Escape the noise and let the beauty of a park remove your stress and clear your mind.
3. Farmer’s Markets
In every little neighborhood of Seattle there’s a farmer’s market. Most cities have them on Saturday or Sunday mornings, in fact I haven’t been to a city yet that doesn’t have one. Farmer’s markets are places where local farmers, craftsmen, brewers, sewers, etc. come together to sell their products. The main point here being local. They offer vegetables and fruits that are grown within your region, which means everything is seasonal. By doing a lot of your grocery shopping at farmer’s markets, you’re supporting your local farms, reducing your impact on the environment because your food doesn’t travel around the world before it gets to you and learning about your region’s growing season. Our farmer’s markets offer local meat, wine, cheese, pastries, coffee, beer, cider, bread, honey, flowers and fish beyond local fruits and veggies. Outside of food you’ll find handmade crafts, art and antiques while listening to local music and supporting local causes. Farmer’s markets define community and sustainability. Check out Local Harvest to learn more about farmer’s markets and find one near you! Bring your own bags and probably some cash!
4. Local Businesses
Cities are full of diversity and individual style. Nothing reflects this more than local businesses. Depending on the culture, the climate and the interests of the people in each city, there will be local businesses catering to those needs. By supporting local businesses over national chains, you’re supporting your local economy. Not only that, you’re supporting your community of neighbors, dreamers and go-getters. I have always found cooler, more creative and more inspired products at local stores versus national retailers. Is Starbucks right next to a local coffee shop? Go inside the local coffee shop. Is Target beside a local co-op? Co-op it. Walmart versus farmer’s market? FARMER’S MARKET HANDS DOWN. Really you should go for anything versus Walmart. Local wineries, local breweries, local art galleries, local music venues, local movie theaters, local bookstores, local cafes, local restaurants, local hardware stores, etc. Choose local and live local. Seattlites check out the Seattle Good Business Network for more news about local businesses who love being local.
5. Less Space, Less Stuff
I don’t know about you, but to me, urban living means your kitchen, your bedroom, your living room and your dining room are all together in one “mega room.” Not only is your space limited, but it’s expensive and you’ll find yourself sacrificing heat in the winter to cut a few dollars off of your utilities bill. With less space, you should start thinking about having less stuff. City dwellers are innovative space solvers who can magically fit a KitchenAid mixer, a microwave and a crockpot in a kitchen big enough for half a person and a maybe a betta fish. The question you need to ask yourself is “what do I really need?” You should be buying less and giving more away. City living gives you a great opportunity to define what your basic needs are and get rid of the rest. Having less means buying less and wasting less. It makes moving easier, parties less cramped, your wallet bigger and pollution smaller. You don’t need a rice cooker, a crockpot, a microwave, a blender, a magic bullet, a food processor, a juicer, an espresso machine, a Keurig and a toaster oven. You just don’t.
6. Go to the Zoo and Aquarium
If it’s available to you, take a Saturday and go to your local zoo or aquarium. Not only is this a great form of exercise and a fun way to interact with animals, but by supporting zoos and aquariums you’re additionally supporting land and marine conservation. Animals are a crucial part of our environment and the people who work for zoos and aquariums are dedicated to preserving natural animal habitats. Look for signs and booths that mention their efforts toward wildlife conservation and natural habitat restoration. You can donate, volunteer or share information regarding these efforts which drastically helps prevent the degradation of our natural environment. It’s important for us to remember that it’s not just our trees, waters and native plants that are suffering from our wasteful lifestyles, but marine and land animals all over the world. So take a stroll around the zoo, watch an elephant play in the water and support the preservation of animal habitats.
7. Volunteer for an Environmental Cause
Whether it’s planting trees for a few hours, removing invasive plant species or helping build a city park, you have the opportunity to volunteer in your community for an environmental cause. Cities are full of organizations looking to better their communities and the world they live in. To make a green impact in your city, look for volunteer work parties with environmental organizations. Every city is a part of its own ecosystem and relies on the plants, animals and waters of that ecosystem for survival. Once a month I urge you to get involved in the conservation and restoration of your city’s ecosystem. Take your family, go on a date (uh, dream date!) or go by yourself and meet some new people. Most of the time these volunteer opportunities are about four hours long and involve you getting down and dirty with nature. It’s a free opportunity for you to make a positive impact within your community.
If recycling is available to you in your city, then do it. Recycling is an incredible way to reduce your waste and live a greener urban lifestyle. Do a quick search to your city’s waste management site, look for their recycling restrictions and start filling that recycle bin. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 75% of solid waste is recyclable, but only 30% is actually recycled. If you can throw something into the garbage, than you can throw something just as easily into the recycle bin. Consider yourself informed. Please rinse and recycle.
This is a newbie to most cities, but will be a big part of the greener urban future. Composting is another facet of waste management. Compost consists of food scraps and other biodegradable materials that can be reproduced into rich soil. Just like taking out your trash, you can now start taking out your compost. Seattle offers a separate bin for compost that sits right next to our garbage and recycling bin for our apartment complex. We have a small compost bin in our kitchen with a compost bag (biodegradable) inside which we toss our food scraps into. Once it is full, we take out that little bag and throw it into the compost bin. Waste management collects it every other Tuesday and takes it to be remade into rich soil. Like I said, this is a new one for cities, but if your city currently offers this service, then I suggest hopping on board. It’s a full circle, sustainable system.
10. Community Gardens
Since every possible open space in a city is filled with a building or parking lot of some kind, it is beautiful to me when I walk down the street and see a huge garden overflowing with green vines and bright produce. Community gardens are shared gardening spaces for everyone in the community, regardless of experience. The purpose of a community garden is to strengthen neighborhoods, preserve wildlife habitats, promote environmental awareness, relieve hunger and improve nutrition. By getting involved through volunteering or signing up for your own space, you are promoting a healthy, organic food system within your community. This is a great use of space and an opportunity for city dwellers to grow their own produce without having their own backyard.
11. Garage Sales
Especially in the summer when the weather is nice you will find sign after sign pointing you to a garage sale. Garage sales are perfect for finding trinkets and random things that you don’t necessarily need to buy brand new. I’ve found board games, furniture, kitchen utensils, decorations and movies during my garage sale hunts. This is a green choice because you are buying something used; something that would likely be thrown out if you don’t buy it. Living in a city with thousands and thousands of people means that there are tens of thousands of things that people are getting rid of at any given time. Look for those garage sale signs or hold your own! This is also another great way to get involved with your community.
12. Apartment Gardens
Growing your own anything is a sustainable solution. Most apartments are lucky to even have a balcony, but you’d be surprised what you can grow inside your little studio. Herbs are a great beginning point for new gardeners, like myself. Life on the Balcony offers easy step-by-step information on starting your own apartment garden. You’ll learn about what to grow, where to grow it, how much light you need, etc. A bonus is that it makes your apartment look and feel like it’s away from the city on a small hill in the countryside somewhere. So start working on that green thumb.
These tips are just a few big things you can do to live a more sustainable lifestyle in the city. They are practical and affordable solutions to a problem that needs fixing. Your city may offer even more ways to reduce your impact on the environment, so do a quick search and learn about what you can do. Even more so, look to organizations within your community who are working everyday to better your city. The best way to start is by engaging with your natural surroundings. Fall in love with the trees that line your city streets, admire the waters that encircle your neighborhoods and look for wildlife that has found a way to live amongst the noise. Let these things inspire you to make better decisions and live a greener urban lifestyle.