Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Outdoors in the City

Julia from Color Me Green reflects on wanting outdoor space in the city

Ever since reading David Owens' Green Metropolis, I've felt that urban living is more environmentally friendly than rural living in many ways. The smaller and more compact our homes, the less stuff we have, the less heat and electricity we need, the less natural habitat we are replacing, and since the distances we travel are shorter and public transportation more efficient, the less gas we need to use.

Yet, when I went apartment hunting earlier this year, I was set on finding a home with outdoor space. I would have been happy with at least a balcony to grow a few plants, but ended up with what seemed like the holy grail of New York City outdoor space - a private, grassy backyard.

So how then, do I justify wanting outdoor space? If everyone in New York wanted and could have a yard, it would be a sprawling suburbia and not a city anymore. I can only have it because I can afford to be picky about where I live. Community gardens are the solution for many farm-lusting urbanites, but they often have long waiting lists in NYC. While it's nice to have a private yard, at the same time I sometimes feel bad that I can't share it more with my upstairs neighbors or let neighborhood friends have their own little raised bed (the only access is through our apartment).

And why do I want the outdoor space? Because I grew up watching my mom garden and raise goats. Because our culture tells us we should want our own house with a white picket fence and a yard, and bits of that have stuck with me. Because I've been inspired by people like the women in the Green Phone Booth and other eco blogs. Because I'm the kind of person who likes to do things the from-scratch-eco-friendly-DIY way and my visions for my life involve being able to spend time outside doing urban homesteader type activities: Hanging clothes to dry on a line. Bringing my food scraps to my own compost bin. Planting flowers in the ground and growing vegetables from seed. Hosting barbecues and potlucks.

However, it turned out that my Brooklyn yard is subject to unusually high levels of mosquitos that swarm you when you step outside. I did my gardening this summer while sweating underneath long pants and a mosquito head net. I planted fall vegetable seeds that only grew into seedlings and then refused to grow anymore - my best guess is from too much tree cover. I can't grow herbs directly in the ground and watch them grow bigger each year due to high levels of lead in the soil. Though we did turn a trash can into a giant compost bin, which will hopefully produce black gold for the raised beds we'll build next spring. I realized that a clothesline doesn't make that much sense when I would have to a bring a load of wet clothing home from the laundromat down the street. I have the room for a chicken coop (and it's possible the chickens could help eat the mosquitos) but not the time to take care of them. So it's not exactly an urban homesteading dream come true.

Are there things about where you live that limit how you can use and benefit from outdoor space?

1 comment:

Eco Yogini said...

This post forced me to think a bit and take a step back about my thoughts on green space.
I have a bit of cognitive dissonance going on with this topic.
On the one hand I agree with you- urban living is better for the environment than rural living for many reasons.
that said- I'm a firm believer in connecting with the environment by being surrounded by nature. I strongly feel that children (and adults) need some pretty significant nature time, away from traffic noises, and city lights. Trips to Halifax's (and Montreal's when I lived there) city parks just don't cut it.

I haven't really resolved either of these beliefs... but I agree that while living in the city I don't feel I could get the 'outdoor' space I really want. So should we just accept what we have...? or are there alternatives that can cut it?


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