sustainable living

Is It More Sustainable to Live in a City or the Suburbs?

Is it more sustainable to live in a city or the suburbs? 

Photo by Feri & Tasos on Unsplash

Cities and suburbs both have their advantages and disadvantages. Cities provide more entertaining nightlife and career opportunities, but suburban areas offer a more quiet, family-friendly setting. Each also impacts climate change slightly differently. Which option is better for sustainable living? Cities tend to be more eco-friendly and here are a few reasons why. 

The City Is More Densely Compacted

Cities have a higher population, but larger metropolitan areas are more densely packed. Therefore, it takes less energy and resources to power buildings, which reduces total greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, suburban areas are larger with more spacious homes.

Many city residences don’t have lawns, so they conserve water and reduce the use of pesticides. Most suburban homes feature sprawled backyards. Also, agriculture is a popular industry in suburban areas, but it accounts for about ​​70% of all freshwater withdrawals globally.

Another benefit of compacted cities is they disrupt less natural habitats. Preserving these areas is essential to maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Plus, fewer vehicles reduce the number of roadkill accidents, not to mention generate less harmful pollution. Suburban areas cut down more forests to build extended roadways. 

Urban Areas Offer More Opportunities for Public Transportation 

One of the reasons cities can be more energy-efficient is public transportation. With a more concentrated area, people are more likely to take the train to work or explore the city on foot. 

Also, many cities have more walkable sidewalks and bicycle paths. In fact, about ​​ 21% of urban residents use public transit regularly. Relying more on public transportation lowers fossil fuel emissions, which decrease air quality and increase global warming. 

Suburban areas can raise our carbon footprint. Many people rely on personal transportation since they have longer commutes to work. Also, some individuals live farther away from essential buildings, like grocery stores. Therefore, using cars to get around adds more carbon dioxide to the air. In fact, vehicles can emit about ​​4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. 

Urban Areas May Have Cleaner Water 

Clean drinking water is essential to human health. However, it can also impact the environment. Contaminated water needs to be collected in larger amounts for filtration, a process that could eventually lead to water scarcity. Also, polluted water can harm marine life. 

Urban areas have a more well-maintained system to ensure clean drinking water. Each home is connected to a municipal water system that is regularly treated and tested. Some suburban families rely on wells, which are less regulated. Houses are also closer to farmlands, and pesticides can leak into the groundwater. 

Another reason water is cleaner in urban areas is because sewage treatment is centralized and monitored. Suburban regions often rely on septic systems. 

Some Pros for Suburban Areas

Cites offer energy savings in terms of space and public transportation, but suburban locations have a few eco-friendly benefits to consider. 

Their Lower Population Can Reduce Energy-Usage 

Cities tend to have a higher population, so they naturally consume more energy than less populated suburban areas. Urbanization accounts for 67%-76% of global energy consumption. Another reason they may consume more energy is to power high-tech buildings. Urban areas are more modernized and use more electricity to run things like smart devices. 

Cities are more enticing for singles looking to start a career, although apartments and condos require more significant energy inputs. However, suburban locations usually have more families who share household appliances. 

Rural Areas Are More Connected to Nature

Another benefit of the suburbs is kids are more connected to nature. They can go outside and play in the backyard, which is good for their physical and mental health. This may encourage them to practice conservation methods as well. 

In addition, children see the direct impact of environmental issues firsthand. For example, they may see sediment pollution or algae blooms. Those living near agricultural land get to know local farmers and learn sustainable practices. It also gives them access to healthier dining options. 

How You Can Make Your Home More Sustainable

Regardless of where you live, being sustainable involves making certain choices. Here are a few simple ways you can have a more energy-efficient house.

1. Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water and Skip the Dryer 

Much of the energy used by washing machines is to heat the water. Use the cold setting to conserve power, lower your carbon footprint, and reduce wrinkles and shrinkage. In addition, switch to an Energy-Star rated washer. 

Consider air-drying your clothes during the warmer months. You can either line dry them or invest in a drying rack. 

2. Add Solar Panels

Solar energy reduces reliance on fossil fuels and is a renewable source, so consider adding panels to your roof. Along with increased energy efficiency, they also lower your utility bills. In addition, it could increase your home’s resale value. It’s a costly investment, but there are tax incentives. 

Before installing panels, consider replacing your roof with eco-friendly material like wood shingles. If you notice sagging or missing shingles, you will need to replace them regardless. 

3. Switch to LED Bulbs

Lighting is essential to create a welcoming environment, so swap out your old bulbs for LEDs. These bulbs use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs. They also last longer and emit very low heat. Along with energy savings, these can reduce your utility bills. 

Smart lights are a good option if you have room in your budget. You can control them from your phone. Also, be sure to turn off lights when you’re not in the room. 

4. Upgrade to a Programmable Thermostat

These devices automatically adjust to your ideal temperature preference. They even turn off when you leave the house and kick back on when you return. This helps conserve energy and save on your monthly expenses.  

These devices are more convenient because you can control them from your phone. You don’t even have to pause your show to turn up the heat. 

5. Buy a Recycling and Compost Bin

Owning a recycling bin is an excellent visual reminder to recycle regularly. This can prevent items from ending up in landfills and releasing greenhouse gases.

You should also invest in a compost bin. It allows you to make good use of leftovers while providing fertilizers for your plants. Composting can also help retain moisture and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. 

Most Sustainable Place to Live 

The debate over whether it’s more sustainable to live in a city or suburb comes down to a few factors. Urban areas are slightly better for the environment due to their compacted size, although they still consume more energy due to the increased population. Wherever you live, take personal steps to make your home eco-friendly, like installing a smart thermostat. This is good for the planet and your wallet, so there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.


  • Regina

    That’s right, but the air quality in cities is usually lower due to the multitude of factories and vehicles. From this point of view, living in the suburbs has more advantages. However, even if you live in a small village and you are surrounded by fields and forests, this doesn’t mean that you breathe fresher and cleaner air. Indoor air quality can be five times worse!
    Did you know about this?
    The most common reason for poor air quality in a home is dirty air conditioner filters. Pros recommend cleaning them at least once every three months.

  • Lysander

    This is a North American-centric view on cities and living – America doesn’t actually build cities, it builds houses and shopping centers. So of course the benefits to living in an American “city” are few.
    But, when done right, living in a city is far better for the environment in so many ways, hands down, according to per-capita statistics. Europe, for example, is littered with these types of towns and cities.
    The best thing you can do for nature is leave it alone. The more people on this planet that move out to rural areas to live “sustainable” lives, the more we destroy it. Of the 7.7 billion world population, who is entitled to live in rural areas?
    Also, ironically, living in a “compacted” city, you’re closer to raw nature, as it’s easier to leave the bounds of the city and find yourself in plenty of undeveloped nature; the cities don’t drag on and spread out like they do in suburban-oriented worlds. In places like Switzerland you don’t even need a car to reach the even the most rural areas.
    BTW, the concept of the suburbs being more “family friendly” are completely subjective. Where I live in Europe, people consider the city to be the most family-friendly place for practical everyday living, and the countrysides are for weekends and vacations.
    But then again, cities here are generally clean and safe.

    • Uriah Weaver

      Do you have evidence you can cite? I am currently writing. a paper on this and any information would be helpful.

  • Emily

    Suburbs are not rural. Those kids are trapped indoors playing video games because there are no opportunities outside beyond their backyard, which is not real nature. They are dependent on an adult with a car for transportation because there is no infrastructure, they can’t even walk anywhere due to lack of sidewalks. Look at the per capita energy usage of suburbs vs. city, of course a city total is more.

  • Austin

    cities’ larger populations should not be used as an argument against its environmental impacts, please compare the per capital emissions, or per capita effect on the planet. Suburban people do not have more of a connection with the planet, they are constantly indoors or in cars, as it literally built as a car dependent place. (Although street car suburbs existed in the first half of the 20th century)

    Suburban folks only have a suburban view of nature, as the entirety of suburbs is bulldozed natural areas, replaced with asphalt and grass, neither of which are natural, and both of which negatively impact the existing landscape.

    Suburbs have a good number of parks, but this is due to the size and scale of suburbs. These parks could be reachable by city folk with decent public transit, but unfortunately this is nearly impossible in much of United States.

    There really is no argument for suburban living being more sustainable for the planet. There definitely is for non car dependent rural folks though. 🙂

  • Rich

    All well and good considering the energy side. However, cities in their current form, will never be sustainable nor good for the environment.

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