Monday, February 16, 2015
Sustainable City Living FTW, Or, Pod-Life, I Has It
Yesterday morning I woke up and learned it was -11F. That's, like, I don't know, some way-below -zero temperature in Celsius. I've adopted many of my new country's habits but for some reasons Celsius, no can do.
I learned how cold it was cold from my iPhone. Because there is no way I would have known otherwise. Because I enjoy the special condition I think of as "life in the pod" -- the pod being my condo apartment, which, being surrounded on five of six sides by other apartments, isolates me from almost everything going on in the outside world.
For some reason people have a lot of negative associations with living in small spaces, one person on top of the other, but I don't know what is wrong with these people because I think it's the best. The small space means I don't accumulate a ton of stuff. It's easy and convenient to clean. If there are problems, there's always someone to call.
And most of all, the pod is always comfortable and cozy, in one of the most eco-friendly ways around. On the coldest day of a Toronto winter, I can, honest to god, turn off my heat for the whole day, and when I come back at five, the temperature is hovering around 70. Even keeping the place toasty, the heater only comes on rarely.
There's something so life-affirming to me about how in this context, being right up close with other people, having lots of them right around you, actually enables you to live a more comfortable life, a life that would be unsustainable otherwise. It's just like public transportation. Other people, instead of being in your way, are part of your path to happiness.
Sometimes I encounter the idea that there's something antithetical about big city living, on the one hand, and environmentalism or being into the protection of nature, on the other, but nothing could be further from the truth. Because if the people are all crowded in together into small spaces, then there's way more space where there are no people messing everything up. It's spreading out and sprawl that destroys the environment.
Even the recreational activities of urban life may be more environmentally sustainable. Just the other day the New York Times had a story about how recreational activities like hiking, camping, and back-country skiing are seriously damaging to the environment. Money quote:
"Impacts from outdoor recreation and tourism are the fourth-leading reason that species are listed by the federal government as threatened or endangered..."
If only all those people could be herded into an art museum!
Anyway, all this means that when I see environmentalists protesting urban development, I want to say, you got the wrong end of the stick, guys. You should be herding everyone into big tall buildings, where can share the footprint, share the heating bill, create demand for public transportation, and hang out in coffee shops. Giant wilderness spots and the animals who live in them -- they'll be left alone in peace.
For me, the icing on the cake in terms of the eco-friendliness of urban living is the fact that, contrary to what you may have thought, elevators are among the most energy-efficient means of travel around. As the New Yorker explained in an article years ago, that's because of counter-weights. Once you put the counter-weight on, the energy required to move people up and down is actually pretty small.
When you're feelingl down about the human condition, think about that for a few minutes. What a wonderful display of human ingenuity and cooperation! Engineers came up with counter-weights, architects and builders put them into nice big buildings, and people like me use them to get to our apartments -- after we've taken our energy efficient subway or bus ride home, of course.
TL;DR: city living FTW.