Sunday, January 30, 2011

Apartment Life

Significant changes have occurred since my last blog post. At the end of September I moved from a 3-story, 3400+ square foot house in midtown Kansas City to a 1200 square foot apartment in Kansas City south. I have been troubled for years by what struck me as the unreasonable consumption of two people living in such a large house. It is wasteful not only in terms of our planet's ecology and taking far more than one's fair share of natural resources, but also at the personal level in the amount of energy, effort, and money required to support it.

Even 1200 feet seems sumptuous for one person, especially compared with the tiny 300 and 400 square foot apartments often featured on one of my favorite websites, Apartment Therapy. But Kansas City isn't New York, and I fell in love with my new apartment the moment I entered it. I had imagined it would take weeks and weeks to find something I liked, but in reality this was the third apartment I looked at. My search lasted less than one week. The one bedroom apartments I saw seemed cramped and the thought of finally having a dedicated study and craft room (i.e. the second bedroom) was enticing.

My top criteria for an apartment was a quiet location with a park-like or wooded view. The balcony of my new home looks out on woods, and it is as quiet as one might desire. As much as I love midtown Kansas City, the noise, and especially sirens, is nearly constant. I quickly set up a bird feeding station on the balcony, and have been rewarded with a delightful mix of birds, some which I rarely or never saw in midtown. Daily visitors include white breasted nuthatches and tufted titmice, neither of which I ever saw in my previous yard, along with black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flickers (the picture above), dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves, cardinals, blue jays, and the inevitable house sparrows. I have far few of this nuisance bird than previously, however, and have yet to see either grackles or starlings on the balcony.

The apartment utility bills are far lower than what they were at the house, needless to say, but I have enjoyed a number of additional pleasant surprises. A memorable moment came about when I entered the apartment on my first visit and noticed a hall closet by the front door. What a concept! :-) A convenient place to hang coats. Something apparently not conceived of 100 years ago when houses in our midtown neighborhood were built. I think the apartment manager must have been wondering why I spent so much time looking over the closet with a pleased smile on my face. I have also found the kitchen, though much smaller than my previous kitchen, is far more comfortable and convenient to cook in (at least for one person). The range, refrigerator, kitchen sink, dish washer, and food preparation counter are laid out so compactly one only has to turn around to reach any necessary item.

If one is truly concerned about conserving natural resources, it is hard to imagine any single step that can be more effective in reducing consumption than choosing an apartment over a house. Stewart Brand has much to say on the energy efficiency of apartment life (and the urban environment in general) in his book, Whole Earth Discipline, which concerns itself with pragmatic solutions to the global warming crisis. Moreover, I chose an apartment only minutes from my work location, which has cut my work time commute by something like 75%.

Do I feel I have sacrificed anything by moving to an apartment, or compromised my lifestyle? No. Quite the contrary. I had some concerns when I first moved, but have since come to understand that everything which is truly important to me can be managed one way or another from my new home. And shedding the burden of maintaining an overly large house has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.


waxwing said...

But what about your garden? What about your dog? What about your telescope?

Glad you're happy though.

kbos2hm said...

what is urban life i here quite a bit about urban life but what actualy is urban life is it a bit like living in the middle of no where

Fiske said...


Thanks for visiting my blog. It is nice to hear from you again.

As far as gardening, telescopes, workshops, and dogs are concerned apartment options are available. I have gotten started with some indoor gardening and will be doing some things on my balcony in the spring. I may also look for a community gardening project.

I have storage arrangements for my telescope equipment and will have to evaluate how successful those are and look for better solutions if necessary. The same thing with my workshop. Large stationary power equipment cannot be accommodated in an apartment, but it is possible to do many woodworking projects with more modest arrangements. I am working on plans for a rolling workbench cart I can set up in my kitchen (the only non-carpeted space in the apartment). :-)

Labradors need to have a yard and be able to get lots of exercise. It wouldn't be fair to Basie for him to be cooped up here, so he will be staying with his Mom. I get to see him regularly and hope that will continue. For now, at least, I am not considering getting another dog.

The thing about all this is that the expense required to maintain a large workshop, garden, etc. is considerable, both in terms of our personal finances and in terms of the ecological impact on our planet. How much of what we want can be accomplished with greater economy and a smaller carbon footprint? That seems like a question we all need to consider.