Monday, September 26, 2011

The Emerald City....

My husband and I just returned from a weekend trip to Seattle and I will admit I cannot stop thinking about it. Seattle was similar to a California coastal town in that the weather was cool, people were laid back and the area boasted great shopping and eating. But what made me love this city was that they were light years ahead when it comes to living and working sustainably. What I read and write about in this column is often done every day by the citizens of Seattle without a second thought. I had no idea the Emerald City was so… “green.”

Urban Farming
Yards in Seattle often look a little wild, because they are. Native plants sit next to squash and hops. Front yards made up of mostly grass are not the standard and you can tell many people incorporate reusable materials for fences and raised beds. Various neighborhoods (well off and not) boasted chicken coops and compost bins. Even people in apartments and condos had tomatoes or lettuce growing in containers.

Sustainable Business
Businesses boasted compostable silverware, soups/sandwiches made from ingredients from local farms, biodegradable to-go containers and boutiques sold items like plants in terrariums. I had to take a double take at menus and signs marketing organic, sustainable and vegetarian options. Restaurant food waste was put in a compost bin and every coffee shop, grocery store and boutique sold reusable water bottles and coffee mugs. And no, things were not anymore expensive there than they are here. In fact, many things were less expensive. I wondered how such a huge population could be onboard with living eco-friendly when so many other cities in America treat it as an inconvenience. Seattle does many things “green” on purpose and patrons seem to be rewarding businesses that choose corporate responsibility over wasteful consumerism.

While mass transportation and cars are still an option for people, many people in Seattle choose biking or walking to work or travel around town. Even on the weekends local parks like the one we visited in the GreenLake district were full of people walking, running, biking, skating, rowing, etc. Young and old, singles and entire families took laps around the lake. The businesses around the lake sold bike equipment or offered group running classes. It was a snapshot of how many in Seattle prioritize healthy living. And I will be honest I did eventually start looking for obese people in Seattle, because they were the exception rather than the norm. I think I counted five in all (and we toured all around the city), and they looked like tourists rather than residents.
Seattle of course is not perfect, just like anywhere. But I am thankful for all I learned while I was there. They have made things like sustainable living a priority and that has translated into healthy living for its residents. I think it starts with developing a mindset that sustainable living is not only possible, it’s important. And soon people from all walks of life join in.

It probably started with local activists, government officials and residents asking for more bike friendly roads, road side food compost bins, as well as grocery stores choosing to offer items from local farms, rather than sell items from 1,500 miles away. While I know full well that Seattle is a big city, it encouraged me that our local communities could implement similar actions on a (much) smaller scale in the future. Yes, Seattle has hydro-power, but we receive more sun for solar power. Yes, they have a mild climate, but our growing season is pretty much year round. They have local interest groups, a more educated population and deal with a higher income base; we have… alright so they have a few choice advantages. But really it’s their mindset that makes things possible. It’s why people pursue grants and government officials approve sustainable projects, because enough residents ask them to. Or why groups/non-profits establish community gardens and teach kids about recycling (some of which I’m happy to report we do here). It’s not about being a tree hugger or “hippie”; it’s about believing the future is worth investing in. So there you have it. If you’re ever up north, stop by Seattle; they also have great coffee.

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