Surviving in the City Without a Yard
Any city dweller will tell you that, no matter how much they love city life, there is unquestionably One Major Downside. I mean, obviously there are a few, but the big one for many people is the lack of outdoor space. As I go back and forth from my Brooklyn apartment to my in-laws in Rhode Island, my sister in Long Island and my parents in Staten Island – the island trinity of my life – I feel that pining for space, for land, for outdoor privacy. All the gorgeous gardens and veggies grown, the Sunday morning coffee drinking on the deck, the lawn for my kids to run on. Urban living means you have made a deal with yourself about things you are willing to do without.
When you forgo life in the suburbs or the country, there are a few items indisputably in the “loss” column. Space is at a premium, so your home is smaller. It could mean the difference between renting and owning. You might lose the convenience of a parking spot or even having a car altogether. Just as it costs you more to put a roof over your head, so it goes for the grocer, who therefore needs to charge you more for an apple. Things can be dirty, and in the summer, smelly. More people means more trash. And less room on the bus or subway. And more difficulty scheduling your doctors appointment. Or any appointment. Classes are sold out. School is a whole thing.
Your apartment may be small, but it could also have lots of character. You might not have a parking spot, but you don’t have to drive everywhere. You pay more for an apple, but that apple is easily obtainable with only a short, refreshing walk separating you from it. Public transportation is crowded, but at least you’re reading and listening to music instead of getting an ulcer in interminable traffic. There are a million things to do, a million things to eat and your children have a pretty good sense of direction by the age of 3.
The Outdoor Issue
But there’s no getting around it – not having a yard is the thing that trips a lot of city dwellers up, sending them off to the welcoming arms of the suburbs. But there are ways to mitigate.
- The park. I always remember hearing people say “Central Park is my backyard” and thinking, well, that’s not the same thing. And it’s not. But after spending a lot more time exploring Prospect Park with my dog this year, I have seen how special urban parks can be. To have a gateway to nature so close, so accessible. To be in a different world so quickly. City dwellers really need their parks and the marquis ones usually deliver in spades. When I see the runners in the morning, the bikers, the dog people, the parents with sleepless babies – I feel the pulse of the whole little ecosystem and I love it.
- The urban garden. If you have one windowsill, one fire escape, one step in front of your building that is hit by one ray of sunlight, where you can grow even one plant – do it. Whether it lives or dies, whether it bears fruit or not. The act of taking care of a plant, and enjoying it if it flourishes – this does wonders for the soul. There are a hundred websites devoted to the cultivation of urban gardens. Do you have access to your roof? For heavens sake! Treat common ares like your own when it comes to imparting vegetation until someone with authority tells you otherwise. “I can’t stand my neighbor’s greenery,” is something no on has said, ever.
- The day trip. If you don’t have an outdoor space, you need to make planning a priority. I take every advantage. My sister’s pool. My in-laws’ water view. My other sister’s proximity to the beach. My cousin’s slammin’ swing set. I visit all the great parks in Brooklyn – not just the ones I can walk to. Those are just the free things. I always plan an apple picking trip in the fall. We ski in the winter, as painful as the bill is. My 8 year old is a Cub Scout – yes, in Brooklyn! – and gets to go on camping trips that are affordable.
I have city kids, but I want them to love the outdoors, so I put in the effort. We’ve had a great time checking off adventures in The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, which lists fun activities for kids for each season — things like listening to a waterfall, or building a snow fort.
- The street. My street is my favorite thing about where I live. The beauty of city life is that there is life out on the street. One of my neighbors is always outside ready to offer a beer to anyone from the block that passes by. Naturally, there is always a crowd outside his door. On nice days, passersby can barely walk through our throngs. Kids are playing. Adults are drinking. Chairs pop up. Tables with food appear. You may even see a television set placed out the windowsill for communal viewing of a soccer game. It wasn’t that way when we first moved in, but it evolved as we got to know each other.
Run for Mayor
If you don’t have a neighbor who is always ready with a beer – BE that person. Be the lady that hangs up holiday decorations long after her kids are grown. Drink your coffee on the steps of your building on a crisp Sunday morning, instead of inside. Say hello, introduce yourself to the people who live nearby, whatever their age, whether they have children or not. Whether you have children or not. Be the person who organizes trick-or-treating in your high rise. Or starts a babysitting collective. Or a running club.
Take advantage of the opportunity for the kind of socializing and community that comes with close quarters. That’s what you bought with your urban dweller membership card, instead of a yard. You paid dearly, so use it.
I look out my back window over all the lucky first-floor apartments that have little gardens and the funny thing is… no one is ever in them. They’re all out front socializing. Anyone can make that happen on their street.
© 2015 Angel. All rights reserved