Centuries of optimising our daily habits to save time, money, and effort has seen our planet pay the environmental cost. Can going back to old ways of life be the only way to reverse the damage?
For centuries, humanity has chipped away at finding ways to make daily life easier. But as we’ve learned, easier doesn’t always mean better.
The mass production of cars gave individuals independence and freedom, but led to the increased demand for fossil fuels to power them. Plastic’s rise to fame in the 70’s promised hygienic food storage and slashed dish-washing times, but now sees 8 million pieces of plastic washing up on beaches every day.
Short term conveniences have made our planet an uncomfortable place to live in the long term – for nature and for us. Alongside kickstarting green technologies, it’s normal to question whether the only way to truly reverse this damage is to readopt old traditions.
Learning from the pandemic, some governments and communities are striving to do exactly that. With large-scale cycle initiatives and co-operative gardens on the rise – are we finally learning that ‘slow living’ was the right way all along?
If you live in London, you’ve likely been grossed out by the population’s mass return to the Underground following the ‘end-emic’.
How did we live like this? is a question we have all asked ourselves while choosing between awkwardly staring at someone’s suited armpit or breathing into a complete stranger’s face during an 8am commute.
It looks like things could change in the coming years, though, because London – like Paris, Helsinki, and Seville – has set out major plans to make cycling in the city safer and easier for its inhabitants.
By 2024, TfL has promised that more than 450km of cycleway routes will be constructed in London. This plan includes making traffic flow safer at 73 of the capital’s most chaotic junctions.
Of course, pedestrianising streets and implementing cycle paths will also provide immense benefits to the economy – or else they might not be so keen to do it, eh?
A TfL study found that retail income rates on streets improved for cycling and walking were 17 percent higher. Not to mention, London’s economy will need to spend an estimated £9.3 billion every year without shifting to sustainable, active, and efficient modes of transport.
And let’s be real, it’s not that Londoners want to pack in like sardines at the start and end of each day. What’s stopped most people from switching to alternative methods is a lack of infrastructure in areas where it is most needed.
Dr Meredith Glaser, director at the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam – a city known for having more bikes than people – says improved cycling infrastructure has the potential to solve health, climate, social justice, economic, and air quality issues.
Let’s hope that we soon see a city where those problems have been reduced, all without needing to reinvent the wheel.
Co-operative farming and all its benefits
Globalisation was once heralded for giving us whatever we want from wherever we want. Tropical fruits find their way into our smoothies in the middle of winter, and typically seasonal vegetables are placed on dinner plates all year round.
But the pandemic has given us another wake-up call. Relying on global trade for food supplies amidst staff shortages caused by a raging virus wasn’t possible – and we’re still feeling the effects of supply chain issues 2 years on.
On top of this, rising inflation has seen food prices pinch the wallets of families everywhere – which is why community farming plots are being fostered in some of the city’s most crowded and unlikely places.
In eight London areas of serious deprivation, the Octopus Community Network has been using a variety of farming methods to grow fresh fruit and vegetables. After harvest, produce is allocated throughout the community to families in need.
Its volunteers join the project for various reasons, with many saying that gardening offers relief to mental health struggles by providing them with a way to stay busy and build social connections with others in the area.
And the benefits of urban farming don’t stop at feeding families, fostering a community, and alleviating stress. It also works to sequester carbon, regulate the temperature of the surrounding area, increase pollination, improve biodiversity, and restore local soils.
As we try to learn from the pandemic, efforts like those at The Octopus Community Network look even more viable as we delve further into one of the most defining moments of environmental and social wellbeing for our time.
I’m Jessica (She/Her), a writer at Thred. I moved to London to complete a master’s degree in Media and Communications after spending two years working in fashion PR in Amsterdam. Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and drop me some ideas/feedback via email.
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