The Surprising Green Benefit of Living in the City

    Colleen Galvin/flickr

    We’re not in the 60s anymore, Toto. Seems young people these days (aka “millennials”) no longer dream of moving to the country to try their hand at communal living and organic farming. Instead, they are turning to another way to help green the planet – city living. Huh? Well, unless you live entirely off the grid, most folks have to work for a living, and most jobs tend to be located close to urban cores. City dwelling also offer more cultural diversity, educational institutions, art galleries, museums, and nightlife, often within walking distance. And walking, rather than driving, to work or play is one of the greenest lifestyle changes you could make. Learn more.

    Save money. For families living in suburban communities, the cost of transportation comprises 25 percent of total household expenditures, making it the second largest household expense, exceeded only by the cost of housing itself. Compare this figure to the budget of urban dwellers, where the percentage allotted for transportation drops to only 9 percent.

    Save time. There’s been a trend over the past 40 years toward what the Washington Post dubs the mega commuter – an individual who, in order to get to the job every day, faces a long haul of 90 minutes … each way. Do the math and you’ll see that adds up to an annual total of 31.3 days gobbled up traveling to and from work, an activity that many people rank among their least favorite ways to spend time. One simple solution to an admittedly complex problem is to move closer to your workplace.

    Save gasoline. Although electric cars (and the public charging stations they need in order to drive long distances) are becoming available, most people still rely on gasoline to power their automobiles. Gasoline has a number of drawbacks. To start, gas is expensive. What’s more, as a fossil fuel manufactured from crude oil, it is a non-renewable resource. But the most compelling motivation to reduce gasoline use stems from the fact that it contributes heavily to your carbon footprint. Burning a single gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

    Save the planet. In recent years, there’s been a lot of buzz about taking steps to make homes more energy-efficient: installing energy-saving HVAC systems, replacing worn-out appliances with Energy Star certified models, and sealing and insulating the house exteriors. However, the Environmental Protection Agency advises that location efficiency is even more important to the health of our environment than energy efficiency. By this logic, the most eco-friendly home of all would combine energy-efficient features with a very walkable location.

    Think like a millennial. Millennials (young adults born between the mid-1980s and the early years of the 21st century) prefer walking to driving by a whopping 12 percentage points according to survey results. When they’re not driving, they like to bike to their destination, whether it be work, shopping, or entertainment. Compared to older age groups, they are much readier to live in attached housing, rather than the traditional single-family detached home in the suburbs, in order to shorten their commuting time.

    Check the Walk Score. If you are planning a move, consult the Walk Score for any property you might want to rent or buy. Based on accessibility to such facilities as schools, grocery shopping, restaurants, cultural activities, and parks, the score is calculated based on an ideal of 100. Anything over 70 rates as “very walkable,” while 90 plus is considered a “walker’s paradise.” Not surprisingly, homes in cities tend to score highest on the scale.

    Push for green spaces. Some municipal governments are beginning to fund out-of-the-box oases such as green roofs and linear parks. Push your locality to add more – and maybe even create your own community vegetable plot or roadside “guerilla garden.” Urban green spaces improve the air quality, soak up stormwater, and may even reduce crime rates in the area. Besides, they provide a pretty view when you’re out walking.

    Laura Firszt writes for

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