I’ve always thought of living in the countryside as being more eco-friendly than city living. Given my rural childhood, the thought of country living evokes memories of collecting firewood, breathing fresh air and going blackberry-picking. But living in the countryside doesn’t necessarily equate to an eco-friendly lifestyle. With the number of people now on the planet, it just wouldn’t be possible for everyone to live in the country. And in fact, city living is generally more environmentally-friendly anyway. But why?
This is perhaps the most obvious factor. In the country, public transport is scarce. This makes it almost essential to have a car. Additionally, people usually have to travel further to get to school, work or facilities like libraries and hospitals. It often isn’t feasible to use walking or cycling as methods of transport.
City-dwellers typically live in compact homes like flats or terraced houses. They can be clustered near shops, facilities and public transport networks, further reducing carbon emissions.
In the country, people tend to live in larger homes, because there is space to do so and house prices are lower. The construction of these homes has a greater environmental impact. Additionally, it takes more fuel to heat them.
When homes are closer together, they can share infrastructure like phone lines and sewage pipes. In the countryside, these may have to stretch much further, taking more resources to manufacture and maintain.
However, in cities, it can be problematic to have huge amounts of waste and sewage being produced in one place. This is a problem which will need to be addressed.
Room for improvement
Currently, most cities are rife with pollution. This makes it difficult to view them as truly sustainable. Indeed, many city dwellers live lives which are anything but environmentally-friendly. So although I believe city living has huge potential for sustainability, there’s a lot of work to be done.
For example, many people drive in cities when they could get by with public transport. On the other hand, there is often a lack of affordable housing near public transport networks. Also, public transport in some areas has declined in quality, often due to cuts in government spending. Some bus services have been stopped altogether, and train services have been privatised. The latter has led to poor service and higher prices. This goes some way towards explaining why people choose to drive when public transport is widely available.
Then there are the consumerist lifestyles which many of us live, regardless of whether we’re in the city or the country. This too needs to change.
The future of sustainable living
When I’m walking through the city, I sometimes like to reimagine it as a sustainable city of the future. But what would that look like?
It’s a matter of opinion, but I envision community as being vitally important. Cities could be clusters of close-knit communities, which would grow some of their own food and generate some renewable energy. Each community could share a couple of electric cars which anyone with a licence could borrow if needed.
Public transport would be widespread and affordable, maybe even free. Cities would be designed so that walking or cycling was easy. Very few people would need cars, and driving would be strongly discouraged. This could be done by taxing drivers, pedestrianising more streets and so on. Exceptions would be made for those who genuinely needed a car, for example those with disabilities.
Sharing within communities would be really important. In our current capitalist world, every household has one of everything. But with certain things, like lawn mowers, it makes far more sense to have one or two in each community which people can borrow. A share shop in every community could be a great idea. Ideally, people would support local businesses in their communities rather than big brands. Personally, I’d love to see a high street filled with local independent stores instead of multi-national corporations.
Above all, there would be lots of green spaces and minimal pollution. In this way, we could reap some of the benefits of country living in the city. Everything would be recycled or composted – there would be far less waste, and so less litter. This would also address the problem of having too much waste in one place.
These are just a few ideas, but there are so many more possibilities. It may all sound a bit radical, but none of these ideas are impossible. In the current political climate, it seems unlikely that we’ll see much change anytime soon. But there are many progressive groups working on projects of this kind.
Imagine how much better our collective mental health would be if we lived in cities like these. To some extent, these things would be possible in the country too. But for the reasons mentioned earlier, I think the greatest potential for sustainability lies in the city.
I long to see beautiful, thriving urban communities in every city. Though it sounds somewhat utopian, I do believe it will be our reality one day. But first, we will need to stand up and fight for it. I can only hope I get to see these changes in my lifetime.