4 Short Years of Eco Conscious Changes in Seattle
I recently made a stunning realization when asked by a Rabbit, “So do you plan to come home next year?” Originally I had of course, but after reading this month’s blog post I am sure any eco conscious human may be able to deduce why the decision is now a very confusing one for me to make. Since I moved away from Seattle in 2010 my eco ideal lifestyle seemed like a fantasy, perhaps 20-50 years in the future. Now, just 4 short years after living in this city and coming back to my hometown for an extended period of time, I can see that my eco ideals from home in Rabbit Land have percolated into the mainstream like the best infection ever. The mainstream is catching up to our eco ideals at lightening speed and includes technology and resources we don’t have at home. Seattle is now considered one of the most eco friendly cities in the nation.
I was inspired to share this blog post today after stumbling upon a LEED Gold certified Starbucks this morning and then another LEED Gold University building this afternoon. Apparently it is a fashionable social norm to be eco conscious in Seattle nowadays. In Rabbit Land we are giving it our best effort to build a LEED certified Common House. It’s a fabulous and favorable idea, but with a 1 Million dollar price tag, it has often been a source of tension in the village and an emotional roller coaster in meetings in a village where the consciousness surrounding $$$ tends to be of much lower proportion than common consumer America. Sometimes I wish that I could just teleport all 70 Rabbits to Seattle to hang out for the weekend. It would definitely be an eye opening excursion! This afternoon after my new Elf job, I took a stroll up the hill to my old university to find a warm place to eat lunch. The general resource building for students, called the HUB (Husky Union Building) looks the same on the outside as it ever did 5 years ago, but walking inside was a surreal experience as the whole interior now looks very modern! After my Starbucks experience this morning I wasn’t surprised to find a LEED 2013 plaque on the wall down the hall and eco water saving commercial toilets as I had also seen in the grocery store complete with a nearby water fountain that digitally keeps track of how many plastic water bottles have been saved.
This is a lengthy post this month but it describes many eco conscious changes that have happened in Seattle from 2010-2014. The first part is the way things were about 4 years ago Then ……. And after the dots is how they are Now:
Most city busses used to be gas guzzling machines, buses were good for getting around but no mass transit system comparable to a subway ……. Now city buses are hybrid electric-natural gas and there is a light rail system. “Gas isn’t expensive if you don’t buy any,” read an advertisement I recently saw for the metro transit system. In many cities only “poor people” take the bus, but in Seattle even upper middle class people like my friends who work at Microsoft don’t have a car and take public transit to work.
If you couldn’t take the bus for some reason and you didn’t have a car, a taxi was your next best option and there weren’t magical public transit cell phone apps ……. Now “One Bus Away” can give you the time of your next bus down to the minute due to a GPS each bus carries so you know if your bus will be late or on time. Don’t wanna take the bus, call an Uber Car to your destination using another cell phone app. Regular people can work for Uber using their own car, it’s similar to calling a taxi but the cars are unmarked of course and all transactions, monetary or otherwise, are done through the app, including letting you know what make of car you are looking out for, the driver’s name, and how many minutes away it is. There is also privacy protection between the customer and the Uber driver. You can call an Uber car to your destination within minutes anytime. I’m not sure that I understand quite how it works but it seems like some kind of technologically advanced carpooling. My carless friend frequently uses Uber when he’s in more of a hurry than the bus provides and I rode in one with him the other day.
I certainly don’t remember seeing bike rental stations and car charging places laying around all over ……. Now electric cars and smart cars are much more common and you can rent a bike, like renting a movie in the old days, from special bike racks around the city complete with an automated pay station and helmet cabinet. I still don’t fully understand how it works, another marvel that a stranger asked me, “Why haven’t you seen those before?” when I was staring in awe (like I’d never seen one because I hadn’t).
Studio apartments were about 200-300 square feet at the least and Internet was never included along in utilities ……. Now you can rent “micro-studios” or “a-pod-ments” as small as 150 sq feet with a shared kitchen down the hall, and internet is included in the rent along with the other utilities. Makes a Rabbit feel right at home, maybe friendly people might want to form a dinner co-op so they don’t have to cook for themselves all the time. I was touring studios for when I get a job.
Plastic bags were a common free item given with your groceries at the store and most stores would give you a bag even if you only bought one thing. I used to have to request no bag please ……. Now, due to a city ordinance, no plastic bags are given out in stores within Seattle city limits, paper only and if you want one it’s a 5-10 cent extra charge per bag. People using reusable shopping bags when buying groceries or stores not giving you a bag at all if you only have a few goods is more of a social norm now.
When buying produce you used to put it into a clear plastic bag and styrofoam to-go food containers and plastic cutlery were common ……. Now these produce bags are green and recyclable or compostable made of some kind of corn starch material or “recycled resin” but still as durable as the old plastic ones. Many take away food containers are brown and compostable along with cutlery that is as durable as the old plastic ones but reads “commercially compostable.” Even wax lined Chinese take out boxes or used pizza boxes can be put in the compost.
You used to have to sort the recycling into bins- glass, paper, metal, and there were not as many different types of plastic you could put in there ……. Now recycling is collected from your home all in one big can that looks like the trash but it is green and there are much less things that go into the trash now. The city has a nice pamphlet about what can go into compost and recycling vs the trash. Things like ice cream cartons and all plastics, even bags, can go into the recycling, except for styrofoam, plastic wrap, and things like plastic cutlery.
There used to be a large can labeled “yard waste” that you could have the option to be collected from your home but only yard waste like leaves and branches or lawn clippings went into it. Only hippies like my mom composted in their own back yard ……. Now any organic food scraps including meat bones and things like paper towels can go into the compost and be collected from your home and most apartment complexes just like the trash. Having a little green bucket or other container on the kitchen counter for compost is almost as common as having a trash can in your kitchen.
I’m not sure what the laws were 4 years ago but ……. It is now legal to keep 8 chickens and 2 goats in your backyard.
Stores like Whole Foods and the local branch, PCC, were just health food grocery stores that hippies shopped at who wanted to eat organic ……. Now these are mainstream stores even being put into new ritzy apartment complexes. They cater to eco conscious, health conscious people and to many different dietary needs and preferences of course. There is a big bulk food section in each of these stores where you can buy things the common Rabbit would order from UNFI, self dispensed from containers. Now both chains have a hot food bar and salad bar inside at the area near the deli, bakery, butcher etc. It’s similar to a cross between a food court and a cafeteria where the customer either takes a plate or a compostable heavy duty paper box, serves themselves good yummy food in wide variety cooked by a chef with vegan, omnivore, and vegetarian options, and pays by the weight using a machine that prints a sticker. You can even pay After you eat it! I was so confused until someone walked me through how it worked. Little SunGee could eat dinner there for $5 every night if she wanted to, eat an organic fruit veggie smoothie for breakfast, and a sensible easily self-made lunch like a Queen high on the hog for a grocery bill of $250/month at most. Believe me I have been doing a lot of store browsing with a calculator because I have no idea how much it costs to live here anymore. A gallon of organic milk is $6 btw so any Rabbit should treasure their raw cow juice from the local dairy at $2.50 a gallon.
Almost no one had solar panels on their roof ……. One year ago when I was visiting, for the first time I saw an apartment complex with a roof full of solar panels. This year I have seen quite a few residential houses on my bus trips that have solar panels all over their roof and subdivisions in this area full of houses that use solar are not unheard of. Even the Seattle Aquarium has a bank of solar panels on its roof, and many other residential and commercial solar photos can be viewed at NorthwestSolar dot com. It was like waking up to a fantasy.
The houses similar to features we use in Rabbit Land seemed like a pipe dream ……. Now there is a house just two blocks away from where I am staying with my family that was built just about a year ago and uses solar power, rain catchment and a cistern, passive solar, and has walls that are about two feet thick. My mother says she went on a tour of this house because they are giving them about once per year and they have a sign outside their house about it. I hear there is a whole subdivision of townhouses houses like this in a Seattle suburb that also use geothermal heating.
I don’t use it and might have cared less, but pot was illegal ……. Now it is a legal medicinal and recreational herb in the whole state of Washington. I stumbled upon a cannabis store the other night on my way to an evening ecstatic dance, it was closed but had much paraphernalia in the window. My friend uses pot to make salves and lotion (she says the salve is great for curing headaches and muscle joint pain, really helped her when she broke a wrist so she started making salve and selling it too), and when I was over at another friend’s house he had a bar of cannabis soap, it smelled really good. Wtf happened to this place!
Gay marriage was illegal ……. It may not necessarily be eco conscious, but diversity and acceptance is highly valued in Rabbit Land. Gay marriage is now a legal act in Seattle, and many job postings advertise that they provide benefits for same sex couples.
I guess the Emerald City is living up to its name. Next on its agenda is a public food forest park full of food bearing trees that would be free for the public, and there is already a website that tells of all the private residential fruit bearing trees that residents have listed as ok for the public to come and pick. My mother’s friend said she heard on the news the other day that the goal is to make Seattle one of the most eco friendly cities in the Nation. Well, it’s definitely doing a great job, when a little Rabbit can live here with more than she bargained for in mainstream eco ideals.
Oh, and this may not necessarily have to do with being eco, but money consciousness is also something I care about. When I lived in Seattle many years ago I worked at an ice cream shop for $7.35/hour, minimum wage……. Apparently a new ordinance will raise the minimum wage to $15/hour over the next few years. All the tech jobs have driven the economy sky high in this area. A cheap studio apartment is around $800 per month and you need to prove to your landlord that you make 3x your rent in salary. $15/hr minimum wage makes a lot of sense after looking for full time jobs and being asked what my salary expectations are. Personally I am really good at being frugal but for this reason, because I want my own place to live, I asked to be making around $15/hr starting off at a preschool where some usually start as low as $11/hr. Seattle is an interesting city economically with a large culture of high salary tech gurus; my modern hippy friends who like to dance, eat organic, and make kombucha; and a homeless population of around 8,000 complete with Tent City. It really makes you grateful for the little things in life.
If you’re still reading, I hope that was as entertaining for you as it has been for me to walk around my hometown wide eyed and jaw dropped for the past two months.