Urban Green: Loving the Planet While Living in the Big City
Are you a city dweller at heart? Looking to love the planet and have access to culture, jobs and affordable international plane fares at the same time? As I figure it out myself, I'm finding some killer resources and ideas on the subject. Yes, I'll share. Read on.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES
Try to have at least one compact eco bag with you in your pocket or purse. This works whether you shop daily on foot, or are one of those people who routinely forgets the ones you've packed in your car. Both commercial and DIY options are available. The trick is to have one that fits easily into as compact a space as possible. City dwellers often have to carry a small arsenal around with them all day, so having things that are light and smoothly stored is critical. If you have room, consider a compact produce bag or two as well.
People tend to think of rolling storage containers as suitable for travel and service personnel only. When we lived in Italy, I spent a fair amount of my free time hanging out in Venice. One thing I noticed was how many people I saw using personal sized luggage carts and wheeled bags to roll groceries behind them as they dodged tourists and school children on the narrow streets. This folding rolling trolley looks very similar and folds up for small space storage. Another thing I haven't necessarily seen for urban dwellers is an efficient form for toting frozen goods while shopping on foot. Toting large plastic marine coolers just doesn't seem practical when you have curb after curb to tend to. I did notice some expandable smaller rolling fabric coolers at Sam's Club the other day that just might fit the bill. They didn't fold up as small as the rolling fabric trolley bags, but they do fold up somewhat and aren't huge. They're a small enough size to also pull off a decent picnic in the park. Here's another option from Amazon that looks similar.
Cloth diaper services.
Dreaming of life as an eco goddess in cloth diaper land is one thing. Making it happen while living life on the urban run is another, especially if limited washing and drying options are involved. Here's one woman's story, and another discussion on service versus just doing it on your own. Personally, I think I would end up going with a hybrid approach.
Free online resources.
I actually found several online radio shows and podcasts you can listen to on the fly. They include The Lazy Environmentalist, Green Talk Radio, Practical Green Living, The Little Green People Show and Eco Talk. The Little Green People Show deals specifically with green living issues for city dwellers. Regarding web site resources, I ran into a few of note including Fake Plastic Fish, the Ideal Bite and the green living section of the Huffington Post.
Living the uber urban lifestyle is similar to extreme remote living in one very specific way. Mail order rocks. Not that you don't have access to other stores on a regular basis, but if you are living in Boston versus the greater Tampa area, hopping in the car to take advantage of a particular brick and mortar retail location is going to be more difficult. Four resources with green products available?Urban Green Living, Green Depot, Amazon and Eco Fabulous.
CONCEPTS AND MUNICIPAL EFFORTS
Sky farms, a Milwaukee power gardener, edible and decorative garden walls, green roofs, prison growing programs, small alley or apartment gardens and growing food cooperatively in a city environment. All these things and more are possible with the urban gardening movement. One of my favorite ideas is rooftop gardening, which I think would work really well with shipping container homes. DIY soy products and sprouts are doable in even the smallest apartment, and vertical farming is certainly the way to go in cities with limited available land. Here are one or two additional resources to help you out.
This concept takes urban gardening and farming to the next level with even more efforts towards self sufficiency. Some cities embrace this concept more than others, but there are those that advocate promoting the homesteading concept in a modern way to promote the turning around of distressed cities such as Detroit. One of the most inspirational examples of urban homesteading and self sufficiency in the city is Path to Freedom. Check out their articles, You Tube videos and more. Also of note are the Home Grown Evolution folks, Reality Sandwich and the Institute of Urban Homesteading. Being Frugal even wrote an article on the subject a while back.
What I love about this movement is how the financial, career and green benefits of living in certain urban centers is combined with some of the coolest perks of living more rurally. I used to think that having a great farm property was only worth it if you had the privacy to go with it. Until I realized the power of combining passive income with a portfolio or potpourri of other business, employment or career options. Having the right location is just as critical to someone who wants to throw open the barn doors on a high traffic holiday weekend to sell some antiques, refinished pieces or vegetables as it is to someone living in a brownstone with a courtyard herb garden they are growing for extra income. A cool perk with the urban location is the increased availability of part time jobs and consulting opportunities if you just need to fill in smaller amounts of income and don't want to give up writing your novel to go back to a full time job. If you have a busy neighborhood, various cottage biz ideas such as soap making, lotion bars, mending and more could also supply you with extra mad money. Here is a link to a blog talk radio show on the subject, as well as a few other ideas and resources you may find interesting.
City Greening Efforts.
This isn't as easy for individuals to implement, as typical programs are municipal. That isn't to say that individuals and small groups can't start their own nonprofit groups and organized efforts. Some ideas I've seen include planting grass along train track routes to reduce heat retention, nonprofit cleanup groups, and community park programs. Cool things are also happening in Rwanda, Nepal, Spain and cities here in the U.S. Looking to get involved? B.J. Cordova of Tucson Clean and Beautiful has some advice. " There are many locally based nonprofit organizations and government programs designed for hands-on volunteer involvement on the ground. These programs contribute to improving quality of life and also help save people and government entities money! These types of efforts offer an immediate and visible benefit to the environment through efforts to recycle, clean up litter, plant trees for shade, paint over graffiti, harvest rainwater, prevent erosion, and make other contributions to improve public spaces. Volunteering is free, requiring only your time, travel, and perhaps minimal expenses for supplies and food. "
TIPS AND TRICKS
Free street shopping on trash day.
Yes, it can be done. Andrea's written a resource article on the subject. City governments and universities have also been known to join in the game, collecting waste from restaurants and coffee grounds from local bakeries to put to work in agricultural projects. I even saw a women's shelter program once that collected compostable materials from area restaurants for use in their organic garden. In turn, the participating restaurants received first pick of the organic produce the program offered up for sale.
Out and about feminine care.
The carrying case for dealing with transitional pads is key to succeeding here. And using the non-disposable menstrual cups can actually help with this. For those that want to try it out, there's a detailed article and discussion on the subject here. The hybrid approach could also work, and allow for the freedom of using Earth friendly disposable products when out and about if juggling it on the subway and train systems is a little more than you want to take on.
Make the farmer's market an outing.
Whether it's a date with your spouse, a frugal power shopping activity with your friends, or some solo strolling you feel will get you out of the house while streamlining your purchases, maintaining a list and having it with you while you shop for fun and savings might be just the ticket. Yes, you'll still have your structured shopping days to get the overall stocking up accomplished. That's just plain necessary for running a household. But if you fit in the farmer's market for fun beforehand and incorporate your list into the experience, you can pick up some produce items and tweak your menu plans accordingly.
Precision transportation decisions.
In my humble opinion, it's far too difficult to choose one particular transport option to fit every situation, person and city. The variables are just too diverse. In the end, you'll need to make the best decision you can regarding secondary vehicles such as additional cars, scooters, motorcycles or solar powered golf carts. Decisions will also be required for such things as biking, public transportation, walking or owning a vehicle at all. Some resources right here on Wise Bread? This article from Philip, some tips from the Frugal Duchess, and a former article for frugality on the fly.
Stocking the pantry.
Philip's discussed this before, as have I in a previous bulk buying post. But I've always had the sense that many think this is only achievable in the burbs, or more rurally. Particularly in the more dense cities, it's difficult to drive and park even if there is room to keep a car. So hitting the warehouse store and other frugal shopping stops to stock up on number ten cans of tomato paste and bulk rice just isn't as practical. There are ways to work around it however, including mail order, urban grocery delivery and splitting large orders with a neighbor. One of the most successful stories I've seen on the subject is the Sustainable Pantry web site. This couple is making it happen in Queens, no less. Notice the industrial shelving, canning jars, re-purposed containers and integrated use of s-hooks to hang odd shaped items? Clearly, this is a couple I can relate too. I even noticed a few of the same brands of bulk grain packages we've previously ordered for our home through Amazon. Their web site describes their approach in more detail, but they definitely stock the pantry and make a once a week trip for produce and protein.
Low impact choices at all points on the spectrum.
The sustainable pantry folks aren't the only ones to have made low impact efforts in the big city. In fact, Andrea has an article or two regarding a couple who made fairly extreme choices to attempt a low impact lifestyle in downtown Manhattan.
Are there more topics and resources out there? I'm sure. These were the ones available for the categories that came to mind for me. Anyone with other ideas or resource recommendations is welcome to add their information in the comments section. My hope is that this will be a reasonable go-to resource for city dwellers. Thanks for tuning in.