Being Green in an Urban Environment

February 18, 2014 in Our Planet
Fukuoka building

Jenny Cottle
Reading about a new innovation in bicycle design made me think about living sustainably in an urban environment.   As individuals there are so many things we can do, ranging from investing in green technology to conserving energy by using solar hot water to reducing your water use.

Many cities around the world are becoming more bike friendly by introducing bicycle based public transport;  where you can pick up a bike from one bike station and then drop it off at another near your destination.  Other cities are offering free secure parking for bikes within the city.

Another way to live sustainably is to consider water usage.   This is not only a matter of thinking about the length of showers or full loads in washing machines, but can include reusing washing water on your plants to grey water systems to flush toilets to adjusting what we consume related to water use.

For example, did you know that it takes hundreds more litres to raise a kilogram of beef than it takes to grow the same amounts of grains and vegetables?  You can save more water by foregoing a few meat meals a month than going without the same number of showers.

Increase your greenery.  The concrete canyons of many urban spaces can increase temperatures by as much as 4 degrees – and each degree adds to a 5 per cent increase in energy use.  Increasing tree cover can help reverse this effect.

If you can, plant trees or encourage your local council to do so.  Alternatively, grow smaller plants. Last year Gardening Australia featured verge gardens that encouraged greenery on footpaths, and increasingly cities around the world are making use of rooftop spaces to grow plants.

In Brooklyn, a brewing company is planning to use Brooklyn rooftops to grow hops.  Growing plants on rooftops has been shown to improve air quality, capture carbon, reduce storm runoff and reduce energy by insulating buildings.

Small city garden balcony

If you only have a balcony, by having greenery there and also on deep windowsills it will help cool your apartment by helping block sunlight and absorbing heat as plants transpire.  If you can grow edible plants you will double the benefits.

Reduce your energy consumption by closing blinds and windows during hot days and open everything in the cooler evening.  Similarly by opening blinds in winter you can help heat your home during the day.  Also, think about what you are wearing before you reach for the aircon on button to feel cooler or warmer.



And the revolution in bicycles?   MIT researchers have developed a hubcap-like device that is attached to a bike’s rear wheel that acts like a pedal assist to make riding easier.  The device has a battery that stores energy from braking or riding downhill to kick in the motor and assist a rider when the device’s sensors detect the rider needs help such as going up steep hills.