Living Lightly in the City

If living in the city wasn't quite what the author wanted, she and her family are living lightly — more sustainably — by applying proven homesteading concepts.

| June/July 2006

My family and I live in Toronto, where I’m a social worker and my husband, Richard, is a home renovator. We live in the neighborhood of Roncesvalles, an older part of town originally settled by Polish immigrants and known for being a walking community.

Although I grew up in a small town and sometimes dream of moving to the country, I’ve found that living lightly can sometimes be easier in a city. In our multicultural neighborhood, one attitude everyone shares regardless of background is respect for healthy lifestyles. We chose to live in this neighborhood because people walk everywhere, cars slow down for pedestrians and bikes, nearly everyone gardens, and fresh food is readily available from local greengrocers, butchers and delis.

Our house is an old, two-story boarding house, built during the 1930s. We live here with our son, Adrian, and my two teenage stepsons, Jeremy and Josh, who are here on many weekends. This was our first house, and when we moved in seven years ago, we shared the cost and space with my husband’s brother, who lived on the second floor, while we took the first floor and partially finished basement.

When Richard’s brother moved into a new house two years later, we opted to turn the second floor into a separate apartment, from which we earn more than enough to pay the entire mortgage: not a bad trade for the loss of a few rooms! The rest of the house is just big enough for our needs, since each room serves more than one function. We think living in less space has helped us bond as a family, and we also appreciate spending less time cleaning.

Home Improvements

Toronto has numerous incentives that encourage homeowners to make environmentally friendly choices. We have taken advantage of several of these incentives, and in the past five years, we’ve received more than $1,400 in rebates.

The first summer after we bought our house, we took part in the city’s “downspout disconnection” program and redirected the runoff water from our house into rain barrels. Toronto started this program to reduce the amount of water flowing into the storm sewers; during heavy rains, overloaded sewers can back up into basements or overflow into lakes and rivers. The city provided two rain barrels and a whole new gutter system, labor included, all for the cost of one rain barrel ($60). In the front yard, I have the rain barrel hooked into a drip irrigation system for my flowers, and in the back yard, I use the water for the vegetable garden.

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