These days we’re hearing a lot about “going green.” People are deciding to use less energy in their homes, recycle more, improve their diets with fresh vegetables (organic, if possible), and find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their commute to work. But what happens when we have to move to a new location? How can we stay green? Our carefully constructed “green” lifestyle can fall apart fast without some advance planning. When we move, we don’t always have the option of choosing the location; we go where the job is. It’s possible, however, to choose a neighborhood that will allow us to continue our “green” lifestyle practices. Here are some things to consider.
When choosing a location to live, look at the green zoning in the area. If being outdoors is important to you, check the availability of parks, recreation areas, walking and biking paths, community gardens, and public areas for downhill or cross-country skiing, hiking, or swimming.
Check to see if the new area has any green initiatives or sustainability programs. These might include porous street installation, a new curbside compost pick-up program, or improvements in the local recycling program.
Find out how your new location is handling pollution. The EPA has a database that tells how clean the air is in various cities. Find out whether there are any areas nearby that contain hazardous waste, and what is being done to clean them up. Find out about the local water, as well. What industries are located near your new home, and how do they handle their waste products?
Check out recycling programs in the new area. Some places have very well-developed recycling programs, while others are still struggling to create a recycling infrastructure. If you are renting an apartment, check to see whether landlords in the new area are required to offer residents recycling services, or whether there is a public drop-off location for recyclables.
If you practice composting but don’t use your own compost in a garden, find out whether your new city offers curbside compost collection, or whether there are drop-off locations for compostables. (You can save your food scraps in a re-usable container in the freezer until you have enough to drop off.) Another option is asking whether there are any local community gardens that might welcome your compostables.
Check out the local regulations for gardening in your own yard. For example, will your new neighborhood allow you to build a small greenhouse in your backyard? Find out whether there are any community gardens that you can participate in.
Be sure your new neighborhood has access to fresh, healthy food. A term that has come into use lately is food desert. This is defined as an area where affordable, healthy food is hard to obtain without access to a car or public transportation. In rural areas, it means having to drive 10 miles or more for access to food. This is obviously something you will want to avoid. Find out in advance where the best grocery stores are, the farmers’ markets, seasonal vegetable stands, etc. I remember living in south Minneapolis when I was a graduate student, and although the apartment that I took was in a pretty good neighborhood and right on a bus line, the grocery store that was only about 3 blocks away turned out to be a terrible place. I found a better store eight blocks away, and although I could get to it by bus, I had to make several trips to the store each week to buy only as much as I could carry. After that experience, I was much more aware of the need to check out a grocery store before a move, and not after. You may wish to visit some grocery stores in the new area in advance, specifically their fresh produce and meat departments, and check the prices of staple items you buy a lot of, so that you can compare them with your old grocery store. This may help you stay on track with your food budget in the new location.
Another obvious thing to check out is your commute to work and to other places you go to on a regular basis. Is your new neighborhood pedestrian-friendly or bike-friendly? How much will it cost to park at work, and how hard will it be to find a place to park? If you have to drive, what will the traffic be like?
Is public transportation available, and if so, are there special public transportation lanes that allow the bus or carpool to bypass traffic congestion? If you will be living in a suburb and working in the city, is there a park-and-ride system in place, where you can drive to a parking lot near your home, then get on a commuter bus for your trip into the city? Does your new location offer the chance to carpool to work?
If you are planning to use public transportation in a new city, it’s very important for you to do some advance planning and mapping of the area. Large cities always offer a city-wide transportation map, where you can see all the available bus, train and subway routes at once. (You may have to get separate maps for bus, train and subway systems.) Find out which locations are good for transferring from one train or subway line to another, or from one bus route to another. Map out your route to work, to shopping areas, or to school, and figure out how much time the commute will take you, including wait-time and transfer-time. Find out how to get a monthly pass for the bus, train or subway. Some cities have a service where you can call in and ask them to give you route numbers to a location that you don’t ordinarily go to, if you don’t have a paper map handy. No doubt there are apps for this on your iPhone or smartphone.
One of the biggest changes is moving from one type of climate to another. Figure out the average temperature outside and then find out how many degrees difference it is between the outside temperature and your preferred indoor temperature. For example, if it’s 80 degrees outside and you like your indoor environment set at 70 degrees, then you will have to cool your rooms by ten degrees. If it’s 40 degrees, you will have to warm up your indoor environment by 30 degrees. Remember that it takes less energy to cool a room by 1 degree than it does to heat by the same amount. Homes in the Northeast and Midwest generally use more energy per household, according to the Energy Information Administration. Find out in advance how this is going to impact your monthly budget as well as your general carbon footprint, and note that the change in climate will also force you to change your wardrobe and some of your daily habits. If you’re moving from a warmer climate to a cold one, you will have to add sweaters and layering pieces to your wardrobe, or perhaps some well-chosen undergarments. If you like to take a long walk every day, you may have to consider the weather more carefully, if your new area is prone to lots of rain, snowstorms, or violent storm such as tornadoes. You may have to get used to walking in a much hotter or much colder temperatures – and don’t forget associated safety measures related to temperature, such as walk/rest cycles and carrying water in hot places, and the use of special footwear for snow and ice, or headgear and gloves for especially cold areas.
In general, you will have to consider how lifestyle-friendly your new place is going to be. How pet-friendly is your apartment building or the neighborhood (parks and dog run areas)? How much access will you have to mother nature, and will you be able to continue activities such as gardening and outdoor sports in the new area?
When I was young, my family moved a lot, and one thing I learned from this experience is that every time you move, you have the opportunity to make a change for the better, or to make a fresh start in some area. If you haven’t been able to “go green” in the past, this may be the time to make some changes in your lifestyle and living arrangements that will reduce your carbon footprint, provide you with access to a healthier diet, or increase your physical activity. 🙂