Country or City Living: What’s Greener?

city living

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?

city living

Transport

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.

Housing

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.

Infrastructure

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.

Conclusion

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.

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4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Very good article. I agree that cities are greener. You covered most of it – one other possible argument to add is that each person takes up a smaller amount of land in the city – think apartment block vs detached house – and so that may have a positive benefit for land use positively impacting such issues as tree planting, space to grow food (and maybe biofuels) and space for wild animals (either reversing the current trend of trashing nature or even reversing it and going towards rewilding). I’d love to see smaller houses in the countryside and people allowing parts of their large gardens to become wilderness ecosystems, plant trees, or grow their own food, but that is not the reality.

    I also like the car share idea. Leaving aside the capitalism car rental vs community share issue for a minute – the basic issue with car rental is the travel time and hassle to get some miles just to get a car so 1-2 cars per, say, apartment building is a good idea.

    Are there any particular projects and progressive groups that you might highlight?

    1. The first project that springs to mind for me is Grow Heathrow, the creation of a community garden to protest the third runway at Heathrow. There’s also Food Not Bombs, which uses food which would otherwise be wasted to feed the hungry. Where I’m currently staying, there’s a group called Edventure which has started a share shop and community fridge. It’s also working on alternative housing solutions like tiny houses. Most cities have community projects of some kind, there are far too many to list!

  2. I love this post. Where I’m from, its mostly countryside. I cannot bring myself to move closer to a city. The main reason of being so close to people. You have some amazing points here though!

    1. I love the countryside too. I’m prepared to compromise by living in a small town with good transport links and plenty of countryside within walking distance. But I don’t think I could live in the middle of a big city!

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