I live in a townhome in a community where all the roads loop back on one another and where everybody’s yard is as wide as a lane in a swimming pool. On some level, this living arrangement is my least favorite. I simply would prefer to live where I can walk to everything, as you can in many urban environments, or where I could see into the distance without spotting another house, my dream of farm life. But here is where God has placed me, so I must do what I can to sustain myself and the earth around me in a suburban setting.
There are a few things that living in this kind of space allow that other situations might make more difficult.
1. I mow my grass with an Andi-powered mower, one of those cyclical blade dojobbies that I saw my grandfather mow his crab grass with in eastern North Carolina. I have Kentucky bluegrass in my yard (a leftover from my lawn aficiando of a previous neighbor), so my going is a little tough. But with this little grass, it’s easily finished in a couple of hours. No big deal and no gas can.
I have not gone as far as a bicycle lawnmower, but that is, perhaps, my next option.
2. I grow food in little window boxes on my deck. Right now, my radishes are going gang-busters, and so is my lettuce. Soon I’ll have scallions and cabbage (if it doesn’t get too warm before it forms heads), and tomorrow I’ll plant a slew of herbs in pots.
It’s not a ton of food, but it provides me with fresh stuff for a few months. And I don’t even have to drive to the farmers’ market to get it.
3. I compost what I can. My father has built me a two bin composting bin that will sit in my back yard, framed by my neighbors’ massive sheds. I’ll be able to compost food scraps and coffee grounds and even the small amount of yard waste I have. The container has a lid and allows me to turn the material from one bin to the next.
4. I plant flowers that make me happy. This may not seem like something sustainable, but I must say that having beautiful things in the yard makes me go outside more often where I am not, usually, hooked to a phone, TV, or computer. I also meet my neighbors more this way, helping to build more of a community here in our intimate yet distant townhomes where we share walls but not stories. And I hope my little patches of pansies and portulaca and forget-me-nots make others smile as well.
5. I open my windows and refuse to turn on the air conditioning until June. Some times that makes for some warm nights where the kittens even refuse to sleep with me, but mostly what I find is that I feel better when I get fresh air. Plus, I know my electric bill is lower, and I’m leaving less of a footprint.
Sometimes living in suburbia makes living sustainably very hard – I have to drive most places because we don’t have sidewalks or bike paths that make those modes of transport very safe; I live near a lot of pavement and a lot of chain stores that make natural beauty and cultural diversity more rare; I live where keeping lawns green and perfect often trumps the beauty of a yard gone wild with buttercups. But still, I can do my part, model my life, and love the people around me as they fertilize their fescue. It’s all possible, even in my townhome.