Saturday, December 19, 2009

The city mouse and the country mouse.

Ponderings from the Greenhabilitator...

I was planning to recycle a post today since I really should be packing for our weekend staycation, or tackling Mount Laundry, or preparing for the meeting with our social worker tomorrow morning (regular post-adoption meeting, we're not in trouble or anything), or...well, you get the point: so much to do, so little time. This little thought keeps popping into my head though, and it's getting harder and harder to suppress.

I think I want to move.


Hi, I'm the Greenhabilitator and I'm addicted to moving.

Not the physical moving part - I'm not on crack - but the new home, new location part. This is the 6th place my husband and I have lived in this decade. Some people like a good wine, or appreciate fine art. We love a dump of a house with hidden potential. We move in, fix her up, and sell for a profit. Now, don't get me wrong, we won't be getting our own reality series any time soon. But we are certain that this is only way we might even come close to paying for college for our kids or retirement for ourselves.

At any rate, we moved from downtown Denver (our party-all-night, pre-marriage, pre-kids days) to an old Dutch style home just outside of downtown. It was still urban, people got shot on our corner on occasion, but we did have a yard with a garden. From there we moved to a similar fixer-upper a few blocks away and also flipped that for a decent sum.

Along came baby and we began changing our lifestyle (in so many ways!). We wanted to live simpler and greener. We wanted to get away from the city and strip malls and all that comes with that. I wanted a real garden, maybe a greenhouse, a place where the kids could run free and I could just yell outside to call them in for dinner. We were feeling adventurous so, when we stumbled across this place in the mountains with 3 acres of land, we jumped on it.

I have to say that I love this place. We see deer, foxes, bears, mountain lions, elk and more on a regular basis. My 4 year old can tell me which one has been in the yard by the tracks -- or poop -- he sees. He's learned about erosion and pine beetles and so much more.

I drive our snowy roads each day looking out at the snow-capped Rocky Mountains thinking "Wow, I live where most people just get to vacation!" Not that I'm living like a celebrity in Aspen or anything, but our little town is a great place to be.

The kids go to a school that is one of the top 3 in the state, and it shows by how much they're learning.

I work part time from home. I don't need to get all gussied up, buy "work clothes", or impress anyone when schlepping out the compost. I have time to can vegetables and jam and cook dinner for my family.

It really is a simple life and I'm loving it.


I'm struggling with the fact that this is not really an eco-friendly lifestyle. Simple, yes. Eco-friendly, no.

First of all, my husband has a 45 minute (each way) commute to work. Sure his car gets almost 30 mpg, but driving for an hour and a half each day is not a very green thing to do.

I take the kids to school each day because the bus doesn't come all the way out to our house. It's an 18 mile round trip, which I drive twice each day.

We only have a Walmart in our town. Don't get me started there. They actually make me bag my own groceries because they hate the reusable cloth bags. So we usually end up driving down the mountain once a week to escape the clutches of Walmart. That's a 45 mile round trip.

It's hard to find truly local food here. Our farmer's market really doesn't have much in the way of produce. I can go down the mountain (about 30 miles) to a better one, but how eco-friendly is driving like that?

Living so far out, we aren't serviced by Xcel Energy - the "real" power company here. Instead we belong to a co-op that is more expensive. Not to mention that our house is old and drafty and we only have electric, no gas. Our electric bill this month was over $650. (Energy audit scheduled for Monday though!)

So I finally checked out Green Metropolis from the library and am giving author David Owen the chance to convince me why we might need to move back to the city. If you're not familiar with the book, Owen's thoughts on rural living are a bit controversial...
"The author attacks the powerful anti-urban bias of American environmentalists like Michael Pollan and Amory Lovins, whose rurally situated, auto-dependent Rocky Mountain Institute he paints as an ecological disaster area. The environmental movement's disdain for cities and fetishization of open space, backyard compost heaps, locavorism and high-tech gadgetry like solar panels and triple-paned windows is, he warns, a formula for wasteful sprawl and green-washed consumerism. Owen's lucid, biting prose crackles with striking facts that yield paradigm-shifting insights. The result is a compelling analysis of the world's environmental predicament that upends orthodox opinion and points the way to practical solutions."
If we moved back to civilization I think I'd miss my compost heap and greenhouse and wild animals and being able to take the kids on an exploration in our own backyard. Or I'd miss the thought of them.

Instead we'd strive for less food scraps and a small, indoor composter. We'd shop the good farmer's market instead of growing our own (which was all in theory last year anyway since our garden was a bust) and we'd explore the city instead of the forest. With all of the public transit we could even get rid of a car.

So that's where I am - right smack-dab in the middle, not leaning either way. Both lifestyles are appealing to me for very different reasons. I guess I'm just a girl in flux.


Tameson said...

Wow, I could have written that post! I feel ya. Alas financial situation being what it is, we may not be able to choose much longer. Just taking things one day at a time.

Anonymous said...

I am in a similar state of mind. I am considerably older than you - almost 65 to be exact - and live in a small town with no public transport, no stores, etc. But the house is paid for, I have a greenhouse, large garden with manmade ponds, well insulated home, green electricity and really everything my husband and I have worked for and cherish. We live a very frugal and environmentally friendly life except...

We are finding the upkeep very time consuming (my husband would like to hike more, I would like to write). We drive into town (3km) daily to workout at the local YMCA. We have 2 vans, too much stuff, septic system and well to maintain. We live in a 1200 square foot bungalow but also use the 1200 square foot finished basement. Will the stairs become a problem as we age? The detached greenhouse is used to start seeds in spring and to dry clothes in the summer. It is too expensive to heat year round.

On the other hand we love a small lakeside condo in town with only 1175 square feet total. It is a 4 storey high building with a fantastic view from all rooms. We could get rid of one van for sure, there is public transportation, a seasonal farmers' market, a grocery store with and organic section, large library (to which we now have to drive), neighbors to keep an eye out for us as we age (our son and family live in Texas, we live in Canada), a hospital, YMCA, our doctor and dentist, etc. But again, no yard and vegetable garden, no balcony, very little space and a feeling of lack of control and total independence.

So what have we done? We are packing up all excess STUFF for a large garage sale this spring. It is amazing how much you amass over a lifetime and no longer need or use. I have drawn up a floor plan of the condo we like - oh gosh, can I really live in a condo? I can't believe how little space there is! Of course the condo we like is not for sale and in this economy will our house sell?

So that is the conundrum we now face. I remember my parents wafting back and forth about selling their home. It drove us crazy! Now we are doing the same thing!

In the end I think the move is the right thing to do, I just have to get my head around it. Of course, tomorrow I will again have second thoughts. Once we contact the condo owner to see if she will sell her unit we will have committed ourselves. Oh well, I'll worry about that after Christmas. Happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way. Mr. Savvy and I lived in a small, isolated town with no public transportation and no stores. We moved to a suburban place with lots of stores but no public transportation (and too much car traffic to ride our bikes safely), and so we moved here to a small town with a few stores and public transportation, and a larger city nearby. I feel like the public transportation is key, as is being within walking distance to at least a few stores and/or activities.

2 Green Acres said...

My location is not at remote as yours, but I can totally relate. I love having 2 acres and really enjoying nature. But, we have to drive everywhere and I miss some of the benefits of living in a city.

The good news is, my husband works from home and I have a 9 mile commute. For now, I think we will stay where we are, but I do think we might move someday.

I am trying to find a small town with a walkable downtown and easy access to hiking and biking that also has decent paying jobs and reasonably affordable housing. That would be my ideal. Let me know if you know of towns like that.

Green Bean said...

Boy oh boy, do I relate! Well, we're city mice right now but I always dream of being country mice but there are reasons we're still city mice and you list them all. I can never seem to find the best of both worlds and so here we stay.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

My husband and I always say, "When we're in the city, we wish we were in the country, and when we're in the country, we wish we were in the city." Both are appealing in their own way, and I disagree with the author of Green Metropolis that country life isn't eco-friendly - it's just eco-friendly in a different way than city life.

Also, be sure to check out the walkability/public transportation of the city you pick very thoroughly before making your choice. We live a mile from downtown, so you'd think we'd barely ever drive. But Raleigh is such a sprawling suburban mecca that we end up driving a ton more than we expected, the public transportation totally sucks, and all the bikers I've talked to around here say, "Don't put your kids on a bike in Raleigh. It's not safe." We might as well be living farther out with as much driving as we do.

panamamama said...

We are in that same place now. We live in an older neighborhood walking distance from downtown. I need to do some major stuff to the house or move. My hubby and I keep thinking about moving into a place right downtown, or getting acreage out in the boonies and living there. It's a harder decision with three kids, but I've homeschooled before and could again if need be. It is a quandry.

Green Me Alison said...

I also totally understand your thinking and that is why we moved this past summer! We were actually living in a bigger city, but it lacked decent shopping, activities, bike paths, public transportation, etc. and my husband had to drive an hour round trip to work.

Now we live in a smaller town that is more centrally located. I can bike or drive to the grocery store with out risking my life and if I wanted I could take the bus. We also see quite a bit of wildlife as Louisville has a lot of open space within the city. Just yesterday we came across a coyote eating apples on the ground from a "wild" apple tree not far from our home. And, when it is time for our son to attend school he should be able to bike or walk.

Before our move I thought all these things would make me happy, but I was worried that it was just a case of the grass being greener. However, I am seriously happier here than I ever was in our former home/neighborhood.

I definitely think that our metro area has several little "old towns" such as ours and you just might be able to find yourself a nice little community that is also a much more doable commute for your husband!

Donna said...

Sounds like you've got a lot of like-minded company! We just sold our little close-to-everything house in the hopes of finding something where we could have room to spread out, have a garden, etc. But it is awfully hard to give up the close-in commute and access to public transportation. The result is that we want it all, and therefore haven't found our next home, yet. We're currently living in a temporary location that isn't close to anything and also has no room for a garden! Good motivation to make up our minds and move. :)

Pure Mothers said...

I feel for you. We moved from beautiful Marin County, CA where we had deer and wild turkeys in our yard, were walking distance to the largest farmers' market, my husband drove only a few miles to take the ferry into SF for work, and we could eat local, easily! I started a garden, canned jam for the first time, when on hikes up at Lake Lagunitas... now, we live in London. I am finding the opposite of you. City living is less green except that I walk or bike most everywhere and my husband takes the train and underground to work. So we spare the carbon emissions, BUT everything at the grocery store is wrapped in disposable plastic packaging and trucks deliver our groceries. No one uses reusable grocery bags or carries a reusable water bottle. It takes 3 hours to dry a load of clothes in the style dryer they have here - so I air dry some things. I miss my HE washer/dryer. Anyway, this is a blog post coming soon to Pure Mothers.
I say, live where you feel happy and be the greenest you can where you live! Write a pro and con list. Personal strides towards greeness are so important, but the real damage to our environment comes from government and large corporations - not us. We can be greener by voting for the right people and making our personal changes along the way.
Good Luck!

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

I thought I was the only one not satisfied with the offerings of my surroundings - it's a relief to know that so many others are also trying to find the answer. Some cities just weren't designed for eco-friendly (healthy) living. Unfortunately, the economy has caused some states to rack up considerable debt so they cannot 'rebuild' their cities.

I live in a smaller city that could use a serious environmental 'makeover'. Public transportation is limited and biking is very dangerous around here due to heavy, fast traffic. The attempt at community gardens didn't get very far - the city has tried to shut down the existing one. There is no farmers market in this city due to lack of interest (!) One was started but so few people attended that they closed it.

For these reasons and more, I am preparing for a move, but it may take a year or two. I am using this time to research all my options to make an educated choice.

Holly said...

Well I may still be in the "honeymoon" phase of my recent move, but I couldn't be happier. My family just relocated from the DC area to Albuquerque, NM. For the part of town we are in (and we chose it for many reasons) has access to hiking, biking, paths, public transportation, but also close to the city with all the "amenities". There's a progressive community with green ideals here that is easy to find. A great CSA for local food.
Ok, drawbacks... it's still the desert, even though it's no Arizona, rainfall is low. And well the public education that I need for my kids is below what I would hope for. But there are many different PS options we are looking into.
No where is perfect.... But I will say this, with my kids ages 9, 7 and 4... if you are going to move, do it before they get too much older. It gets harder as time goes on. Good luck!

Daisy said...

Tough decisions all around. I'm concerned that the bus doesn't come far enough for you; that's not right. I know Colorado has had major issues with school funding, but getting the kids safely to school has to be a priority.


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