Hello Silicon Valley!

August 11, 2013

We’ve had a whirlwind couple of months since my graduation, and have finally settled down now in Mountain View, California, a town as suburban as they come, and a new challenge for me to navigate as a fledgling urbanist. Three years in New York has changed the way I see urban environments, and so as I figure out how to find the grocery store, get up to speed on my new job, and finish unpacking from our move, I’m also trying to figure out how to grapple with our new environment. I can’t feel smug any longer in my relative lack of carbon footprint. Our new circumstances mean that we are now car-owners and I have been driving to work every day. But I think we’ve been successful in at least a few areas, so far, to reduce the impact of our new less-dense lifestyle.

While we do now own a car, we plan to have only one, in an area where almost everyone drives alone. We chose our new apartment carefully based on location: Justin can walk to work (15-20 minutes) and my commute is only 3 miles (20 minutes in the car, in rush-hour traffic). Once we get bikes, we can both commute to work without a car. Our goal was to minimize commute time for both of us. Further, since we are only 20 minutes (walking) from downtown, we can walk to the train station, the farmer’s market (if we’re feeling ambitious), and the other city amenities fairly easily. We also live in a three-story apartment building, one of the very few buildings with more than two floors, so we live in one of the denser buildings around, although this was completely by accident. The one bonus of living here over New York is climate: we don’t need air conditioning in the summer, and we probably will only rarely need heating in the winter. A year-round mild climate means less energy spent on heating and cooling, and of course, more cost savings as well.

Our reasons for choosing to live here instead of in San Francisco, where I was very tempted to stay, are complex, but some of the attractions of the suburbs are undeniable. Our rent is very reasonable compared to what we expected to pay in the city - we have more space for less money, covered parking, a full kitchen with dishwasher, and even a storage space in the parking area. Cheaper land means cheaper everything else, too, all subsidized by the federal highway system & mortgage practices (but more on this in a later post). We actually have more space than we really know what to do with. I’m currently trying to figure out how to make our living room look inhabited without having to buy a lot of furniture!

It seems fitting at this point to review my 2013 New Year’s resolutions in light of our new circumstances. I expect some things to be easier, and some to be harder.

  1. Don’t buy things I don’t need, especially durable goods. This has already proven to be a tough one, since any move means getting rid of things and then re-acquiring them upon arrival. We already had to do one major IKEA shopping trip. I’ll be trying my best not to “fill up” our new apartment with unnecessary stuff just to make it look good.
  2. Start Continue composting. This will take some figuring out, since Mountain View doesn’t have a city-wide compost program, and we don’t have a yard in which to compost. I’ve noticed that our local Whole Foods has a collection bin for compost at their store, however, so I will see how feasible it is to drop off compost there on a regular basis.
  3. Cook more at home and bring my lunch more. With our new giant kitchen, this should be easier than before! I will also try to buy more produce at the farmer’s market, but this may be a challenge based on my Sunday morning schedule - to be determined.
  4. Ask for no utensils, napkins, etc when I do get takeout. This is no longer an issue, since I don’t think we’ll be getting takeout much anymore. Mountain View has also banned plastic bags at stores, so I’m now bringing my own bags everywhere I go, with less waste as a result.
  5. Eat less meat and processed foods. Same same. (See: An Omnivore’s Dilemma and this article)
  6. Remember to be energy & water conscious. California has more problems with this than New York, so it’s probably even more important here. Perhaps I can add a new resolution, to replace #4 above: Walk & bike more; drive less. And maybe further, exercise more! We managed to get an apartment in a pretty good location, so now the challenge is to resist driving everywhere. I don’t have a bike yet, but once I get one I hope to bike to work at least a few days a week. I also take encouragement from this blog written by an urban advocate in Los Angeles who gave up her car several years ago and has been getting around on foot, bike, and public transit ever since. [Warning, there is music on her site that can’t be turned off; I usually read her posts on RSS which avoids this problem.] If she can do it in LA, a city notorious for its car culture, then why not do it here? Public transit is pretty bad around here, but biking seems very feasible. I intend to try!