Saturday, November 15, 2014

Missing urban density

Urban density: the environment's secret friend

Cities: loud, dirty, polluting, asthma-producing concrete jungles with high urban density. But, at the same time, environmentally friendly? Yes.

Urban density in Spain.
I know there are studies and reports and articles written about the environmental benefits of high urban density, but it was hard for me to believe them when we lived in Philadelphia.

One of our favorite park in Philadelphia; directly under the Ben Franklin Bridge.
 We lived right next to loud, dirty I-95 and practically underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge, a major bridge connecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Our favorite parks were either under that bridge or at the interchange between I-95 and the bridge. It was loud and the amount of fine particulate that coated our boat and car made me worry about the quality of the air my girls were filling their lungs with. Moving to a smaller city seemed like a great way to live closer to nature with cleaner air, a slower pace of life, and a little more peace and quiet.

A quieter, cleaner life, but not necessarily and eco-life

And here we are. We moved from a city of over 5 million to a metro area of a little less than 850,000. It's practically a small town compared to the Philly metro area. Have I found what I was looking for?
  • Clean air. Yes. The boat and car stay relatively clean and my lungs don't burn when I exercise outside. (Okay, well they do burn but that has nothing to do with air quality.)
  • Peace and quiet. Yes and no. It is quiet walking around the neighborhood. We can hear the birds. There is no background hum of the highway. But we are close to a Naval Air Station and the planes run a lot of exercises directly overhead. We are also a stone's throw from the major railroad track that runs down the east coast of Florida. The trains are insanely loud. (Not the actual clickety-clack but the horns they blow as they go through intersections. And the horns have to be loud because the intersections are outdated, making the trains blow the horns as a precaution to warn drivers. But I digress...)
  • Close to nature. Yes. We are close to nature. The river is quiet and big and actually feels like a living body of water as opposed to the Delaware River which always felt like a large dumping ground for farms and industry and energy plants. We're even considering getting a stand up paddleboard so we can play on the river. (You know, in all our free time.) We are a short 30 minute drive to the beach and the city has lots of parks that are bigger than your average city park.
  • A beautiful beach, a short car ride away.
  • Slower pace of life. Yes. Rather, YES. It is slow here. Compared to a city of 5 million, there is not much going on. I'm not sure why I didn't fully expect that.
Clean air, peace and quiet, close to nature, slower pace of life. These all seem like they could go hand in hand with an eco-friendly way of life. But there is one key element missing: high urban density. This is a city built around cars. The sprawl is mammoth and it can take 30 minutes to drive from one end of the city to the other, on a highway, going 70 miles an hour. It is hard to wrap my head around how BIG this city is. People drive everywhere, the public transportation is sub-par, and it is not at all bicycle friendly.

So, yes, big cities are dirty and loud, but I'll venture a guess that the residents of a big city with high urban density are polluting (define as you like) less per capita than residents of a smaller city with big sprawl. 

Embracing the small

What do I miss about the big city? I miss impromptu conversations with random strangers as I walk down the street. I miss being able to walk to independent coffee shops. I miss being able to walk to friends' houses. I miss the color and the noise and the action.

The annual Mummers' parade on January 1 in Philly.
The Headhouse farmer's market in Philly. Local, organic produce every weekend.
Oh SEPTA. I didn't think I'd miss you so much.

So what do I love about my new city? I love the quiet. I love hearing the birds. I love living on a river that has boating possibilities from day trips to week-long trips. I love walking down tree-lined streets. I love all the parks. I love being able to go to the beach. Oh, and there are palm trees.

Palm trees, clean air, and a gorgeous sunset with wide open sky.

No comments:

Post a Comment