It’s been a tumultuous and busy summer for me. In addition to my responsibilities as the blogger for Green Depot, I’m also the director of outreach for a startup nonprofit, the Human Impacts Institute. But this is work I’ll be leaving at the end of the summer to move onto the next big thing: pursuing my PhD in environmental Anthropology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.
New York City has been my home now for almost four years, and I’ll be sad to leave. One of the great things about living in this sometimes overwhelming city was the knowledge that the amount of green space, the number of environmental and community organizations doing powerful work, a city government keen to tackle climate change, and an extensive bike and public transportation systems, made NYC one of the most environmentally-friendly places in America to live.
So in looking to move to the Rutgers area, what are some of the criteria I’ve been using in trying to pin down a new home that would allow me to live even more ecologically?
- The house. It might be my personal dream to move into a LEED-certified earth ship some day, but given my limited finances and the limitations of housing in central New Jersey, I recognized that this was likely infeasible. Instead, I thought about what kind of home I would want to live in otherwise: was it sunny, to reduce heating costs in the winter? Would we be able to purchase renewable energy from sources like wind or solar? Could I compost in the back yard? Would I have the option to plant a garden, to produce some of my own food? Was the house already weatherized, and if not, would I be able to do it myself come winter? Would there be options to capture and recycle grey water from the bathroom and kitchen?
- Walkability. New York City is known for its walkability, but many communities in America – especially suburban communities – are designed for driving rather than walking. I wanted to know if the town I was moving to had well-maintained sidewalks. Were there nearby commercial streets with local, independent businesses and restaurants to patron? Would there be a sidewalk cafe culture to get people out of their homes and participating in the community? Were there parks and natural areas within walking distance? And was there viable public transportation within walking distance?
- Bikeability. My main mode of transportation is my beautiful green commuter bike. I wanted to know if I would be able to ride it to school safely, efficiently, and pleasantly. Would the ride be pretty? Would cars be respectful of cyclists, or at least less in number? Would the town be especially hilly, making daily commutes more difficult? Was there a bicycle infrastructure – bike lanes, sharrows, highways, and divided paths?
- My city’s commitment to being green. It’s not too often that a city in America makes a serious commitment to being a “green” city. New York City is working hard at being green, and I’ve been lucky to live in a place where that was a priority for my government. Would I be able to find that in New Jersey?
More than the city government’s commitment to sustainability, I wanted to know if the population of the town cared about being green. Was there a recycling and composting program in place? How robust would it be? Did local residents participate in civic life: were the farmers markets popular? Could I find CSAs and co-operatives easily? Did folks throw and participate in street fairs, community events, and town hall meetings?
It was just my luck that I stumbled upon the little town of Highland Park, just across the Raritan river from New Brunswick, NJ, and self-styled “first green community in New Jersey.” The house I’ve found is on a quiet street, a few blocks from main street and the farmers’ market. There are numerous parks within walking distance, and I’ll be able to help my new roommates grow their tiny garden in the back yard. The landlord provided us with a compost tumbler, and the house has double-paned windows, faces south, and is insulated in the walls and attic.
What’s more is that the town is a vibrant and culturally-diverse place to live, with street festivals and town gatherings common and well-attended. Rutgers university is just across the river – my department’s building is about a 20-minute bike ride away – and in New Brunswick is a small food co-operative I plan on joining. What’s more, is that the town has an aggressive long-term plan for bolstering its sustainability credentials, as designed by its city government’s green council.
All in all, a nice little place to live!