February 17, 2017

6 Suburban Ways of Giving Back to the Environment

The large single-family suburban home is the symbol of American excess. Two cars in the driveway. Sprinklers spreading water across manicured green lawns. Three families occupying enough land to hold a couple dozen.

I won’t argue that suburban living is the ideal model or that we should all rush to own a quarter acre of land. But these types of homes do have perks for those of us who want to improve our relationship with the planet.

1. Space for a Garden

Modern day food consumption comes with a lot of waste. The stuff we eat comes in packaging, often plastic, that will most likely end up in a landfill. Even if we try to live a zero waste life, that doesn’t reduce the amount of fuel spent transporting food from farm to store.

I grew up out in the sticks where it wasn’t uncommon for families to have their own gardens. Neighbors hand each other extra tomatoes, peppers, squash, and other veggies that they can’t consume all on their own.

Suburban residents may not be able to walk to the nearest store, but we do have the space to grow our own food. A square of land can yield more produce than fits on a counter-top or apartment balcony. And in a friendly community, there are plenty of neighbors to share food with.

2. More Composting Options

You don’t need a yard to compost, but it does give you more options. Stick a barrel in your backyard. Get a tumbler that spins off the ground. Save yourself money and bury your food scraps directly into the soil.

While you’re at it, you can leave some food out for the birds and squirrels. I love having the option to toss uneaten food into my backyard for an animal to enjoy, rather than scrape food down the garbage disposal.

3. Solar Power Installation

To put solar panels on your roof, it helps to own the building. I want to get energy this way someday, and that factored into my home purchase. I didn’t want to be stuck in an apartment or townhouse where the options for how I get power are up to someone else.

Solar power is getting cheaper, and there are a growing number of options. Even if I don’t stick panels on my roof, having a yard gives me the space to stand mobile panels out on the porch. Or I could get some installed on open land.

4. Space for Activities at Home

I didn’t want a large home, but my wife teaches dance, and I practice martial arts. In both cases, it helps to have a space to practice (and a room with a concrete foundation that doesn’t shake the house).

Having a studio at home provides the space to dance at home. It’s a space for yoga. It’s room for me to work on my kicks. Not having to leave home for these activities saves us extra trips in the car. We can also practice at home longer and more often than we would be able to elsewhere.

5. Room to Plant Trees

The option to plant trees lets you turn a generic lot into your own private retreat. Not only do you reap the benefits of surrounding your home with beautiful greenery, you’re using your corner of the world to help produce more oxygen.

If each neighbor has trees on their land, then you can have a relatively high populated area that’s still pretty green. We can live among trees, rather than on the land we took from them.

6. Ability to Create Habitats

A single tree provides a home to countless insects, birds, and other creatures. Bushes do the same. We can choose to share our space with others, even while living what looks like a private existence. Depending on your landscaping vision, you can welcome fish onto your lot by digging a pond.

Just try to choose plants that are native to your environment, because you don’t want to end up doing more harm than good.

Can We Do This in Every Suburb?

Unfortunately, no. Many neighborhoods have restrictions that limit what homeowners can do. Under certain circumstances, these areas don’t provide you with all that much more freedom than what you would have in a condo or townhome.

I live in an older neighborhood in a rural county, so there isn’t much in the way of rules. That was a big part of the appeal. As I go about trying to own less, I want to create an outdoor space that draws me outside and reminds me that I am a part of the natural word.

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