With over half of the world’s population living in urban areas according to the UN, the sustainability of our cities and large towns is a major issue. Sustainable urban living isn’t just a nice idea – it’s an essential part of the long-term survival of our planet.
So what can you, an ordinary citizen, do right now, to make your town or city more sustainable?
1. Get rid of your car.
The number one thing you can do is to get rid of your car and switch to public transport or cycling. But this isn’t just the same old, same old, stuff about pollution.
Note “get rid of your car”. Not use it less. Because one of the huge issues for cities is space. And a car that is not being driven has to be parked. Look at the enormous areas of towns and cities that are taken up by parked cars. City dwellers are well aware of the fight for parking spaces that happens at evenings and weekends. The number of cars in cities is only viable if around a third of them being driven at any one time, because there isn’t enough space to park them.
Now imagine the streets without cars. More space for cyclists, so that we could have safe cycle lanes. And more space for planting trees and food.
2. Start a cycling club for older citizens.
It’s a real shame that in many big cities, cycling is seen as the preserve of young men, and a few young women, in professional cycling kit, who can weave in and out of traffic at high speed on racing bikes.
You shouldn’t have to have that level of skill to cycle to the shops and back. And until a much wider spread of people feel safe to cycle in cities, we are never going to get rid of enough cars to create more living and growing space and bring about truly sustainable cities.
So why not work with your local council, to set up cycle training for oldies? And introduce older people to cycles that are stable and easy to ride? Or demonstrate one of the new breed of hybrid bikes, with a battery which charges when the rider brakes? You could help identify safe routes from where people live to supermarkets and shops. Or set up a social media group, so that more mature cyclists could buddy each other and provide support.
3. Get bee friendly.
If we don’t have bees we don’t have food. Full stop. So if you have a window box, or a small garden, or a patch of untended earth near the supermarket, plant bee-friendly plants such as lavender.
If you live in a block of flats, see whether the building’s management will let you set up bee hives. Urban beekeeping is on the rise in the UK, in cities such as London and Birmingham. Actually the bees may be healthier in the cities because urban plants don’t tend to be sprayed with pesticides as they often are in country or farmland areas.
4. Grow food everywhere.
Every balcony and window box can grow food, saving the owners money and stopping vast quantities of fresh food being brought into the city then carted out again as refuse. The wastage rates on food are huge. How many of us actually use the whole packet of herbs we buy? But if we grow them, we can cut them as needed – no waste and they’re fresher.
Some chefs in big cities are using the space at the tops of buildings – even just a one foot walkway around a water tower – to plant salads, herbs and vegetables that can be harvested daily. You don’t even need an outdoor space – you can grow many herbs and salads on a sunny window sill.
We still have allotments in cities and it’s possible to share an allotment, so you don’t have to do all the digging and can share the produce.
There are dozens of ways to take the initiative on urban sustainability, so hopefully these four will have got you thinking of plenty more!