Arduous is walking down the street
All right, so maybe my life isn't all Manolo Blahniks and questionable fashion choices, but I love living in the city. In this, I suspect I am in a minority among enviro-bloggers. Most eco-nuts dream of large gardens with chickens. Call me chicken shit (ba dum pum), but I have absolutely zero desire to ever own a live chicken. As for the garden, I'd be perfectly content with a small plot in a community garden. (Honestly, I'm pretty happy to just BUY my produce from other people because, well I'm LAZY, but in theory a community garden sounds lovely.) As such, I've always approached sustainable living from an urban perspective. Now, I do believe that a sustainable life is possible wherever, should you choose to make it so. However, I'd like to make a case here for the city. In my opinion and experience, it is much EASIER to live a sustainable lifestyle in a city. Here's why:
- Access to public transit: This is by far the biggest upside to city living and one of the huge downsides to living in a more rural area. Much as I bemoan LA Metro, and long for the NYC Subway, or the "El," or even BART, I have to admit that yes, you can get around LA without a car. If you're far from the subway, you will be subject to the mercies of the bus system, but the point is, there ARE buses and they DO go most everywhere.
- Access to farmers' markets: Off the top of my head, there are at least ten farmers' markets held within 10 miles of my house. In fact, there are probably more.
- Access to theatre and culture: I know this one isn't as big a deal for a lot of people, but personally, I'm not willing to live my life only seeing a play or a live music performance once every year or so. Of course there are plenty of people who live in Los Angeles who don't take advantage of the wealth of cultural opportunities in the city. But if you care to look, you'll find amazing bands performing most nights (often for no to little cover charge), art openings (free wine!), and innovative theatre happening in converted store fronts.
- Limited space: Some of you are thinking, "That's good?" Yes, from an environmental perspective, it's better to live in smaller places. In a city, most people tend to live in small apartments. And small apartments generally use less energy than houses. One of the reasons my electric bill is 11% of the average American's is because my apartment is just SMALL. Apartment buildings also allow people to share resources better. The obvious example is the washer and dryer. A typical suburban family owns one washer and one dryer for four people. My apartment building has two washers and two dryers and probably 40 people. Other apartment buildings have gyms which can cut down on individual elliptical machine ownership. Still others have rec rooms with stashes of board games. And let's not forget that we have 40 people "sharing" our small lawn and planter boxes. Our lawn is smaller than most suburban lawns as it is, but split amongst 40 people, the per person water use must be fairly negligible.
- Jobs: let's face it. It's hard to live a sustainable lifestyle when you can't make ends meet. Cities are (generally) where the jobs are. And the closer you live to your job, the less time you have to spend commuting, the more time you have for everything else.
A couple weeks ago, Melinda at Elements in Time and I had somewhat of a difference of opinion on the sustainability of Los Angeles. Melinda lived in LA for ten years, and I've lived here for going on seven, so we both clearly know the city fairly well. Melinda's opinion was that Los Angeles was not a sustainable place to live, and she cited "water issues, lack of urban planning, increasing fires, and more," as reasons Los Angeles is not particularly sustainable.
Now, I recognize the validity of her reasoning. I remember only too well the fires from last summer- in particular one that happened almost on top of me. And I certainly respect Melinda's viewpoint. But personally, I am more optimistic about the sustainability of Los Angeles.
Yes, we have water issues. But, according to the LA Times, "Thirty-nine percent of residential water use in California occurs outdoors, mainly when homeowners water their lawns." As I mentioned, cities tend to have more people per lawn than suburbs. In addition, there are economies of scale that occur when a large group of people live in one area. Simply put, it's cheaper to direct water to one place and have a few million people benefit, than it is to direct water to a couple hundred different rural outposts.
As for the urban planning, it's true that Los Angeles is no New York or San Francisco. But it's changing. When I first moved to the Hollywood ghetto (no, I no longer live there) there's was almost nothing in walking distance. One dive bar, one beyond-dive bar. One British pub with an exceedingly un-British Melrose Place-like courtyard. And a Bally's Total Fitness.
Seven years later there are several cute brunch places, a Borders, and a Bed, Bath & Beyond. There's the Arclight Theatre, and Amoeba Records. The effect has been dramatic. What was once a rather seedy area is now vibrant and teeming with people.
It is possible that development will not continue at such a fast pace now that the housing market has crashed, and the country is verging on recession. But cities have been much more insulated from the housing crash than the suburbs and exurbs. The reason? Young people are still moving into the cities in droves. And what's more, they are living there for much longer than previous generations.
Los Angeles also has the advantage of having a fairly mild climate. I basically went the whole winter with no heat. And the dryness in the summer means that air conditioning isn't quite the necessity it is in say Chicago. And living in California makes eating local food much easier since everything is grown here already!
In the end, I think if you work at it enough you can live sustainably anywhere. Los Angeles isn't for everyone, and every single person isn't going to find it personally sustainable. But for me, it's a pretty good fit. Because in the end, Los Angeles is where my community is. And it's just more fun to sit in your heatless apartment when you're drinking a bottle of wine with a good friend.