How Chicago can teach us to live efficiently

Recently, during my trip to Chicago, I was sitting along the river admiring the beauty of the city. I realized that so many people have learned how to live so closely amongst each other that they no longer realize how efficiently they live. Nestled in tight quarters, they share a space that would make most country dwellers claustrophobic.

Their methods of transportation have adapted to their needs. It doesn’t pay to have a car in Chicago. Parking is $20.00 per day in a lot ($10.00 less than in New York) and parking on the street is incredibly frustrating. If you do find a space, it is usually prohibitive because of restrictions that are placed in order to keep the space open for the residents.

Most city dwellers opt for public transportation. It is much more cost effective and the options are everywhere. Almost every corner has either a bus stop or a subway/train entrance that allows the traveler to move about the city with little effort throughout all hours of the day and night.

Bicyclists move more efficiently through the streets of the city than the pigeons. At every subway stop you will find a sea of bikes parked at the entrance. If you suggest that you work too far away to ride your bike, the cyclist will laugh and say 5 miles is nothing.

I started to think about a conversation I recently had. It was pointed out that New York City has an incredibly low carbon footprint. I found that surprising, considering the amount of people living there and the fact that trees are scarce in the city. How could it be possible that a place as dense as a New York City have less of an effect on our climate than say a place like Orlando?

During the Green Cities convention this past spring, I attended a work shop with Eric Corey Freed, from Urban Re:VISION. He pointed out that people need to move away from suburbia and back into the city if they really care about the climate. I scoffed at the idea of leaving my open spaces and my living amongst the forest. Why would anybody want to leave the opportunity to commune with nature while they are having their morning cup of coffee? I live in Florida because I wanted my son to grow up running through the white sands of the beach and building his forts amongst the palmettos. Being able to walk down a path and see a fawn or a migrating bird who spends his winter here is something that I think is essential to who he will become. Why give this all up to move back to the city?

But the truth is, the Florida of my youth is not the Florida of my son’s youth. The paths that were available to me are now found only after you drive down the road to the entrance of a designated park. The palmettos are only found along the highways and the forts are now regulated by the homeowners associations. Even in my own back yard, where we had gotten use to being greeted each morning by the wildlife that lived in the trees, has changed. The animals are now scarce. A squirrel is now a rare sighting. The retention pond that was installed by the county caused the removal of the trees where these animals had once lived. Just like the city dweller who hasn’t noticed their own evolution, the country dweller hasn’t noticed it either.

So how does one reach the efficiency of city living and preserve the beauty of the country. Mr. Freed will tell you that you need to move back into the city and stop the urban sprawl. He will tell you that the country should be a place that you visit but do not stay. He will even show you places in Europe that have done that quite successfully through out thousands of years.

But how can we go back and undo what we have already done? What would be the point of the people leaving suburbia when they have already made an impact on the land? While I believe that it is unrealistic to think that the people will give up what they already have. I do believe that the mindset can be changed on how we make an impact on our future. Realizing that we can take what we have and ask for less could be the key to our survival. Making what we have as efficient as it could possibly be would have a greater impact on our future than moving back to the city. If we could learn to live with less, we could empower ourselves to preserve more. While it may seem to be a sacrifice at first, if given enough time – it will soon become second nature to us all.