Across several realms of human knowledge like science, entrepreneurship artificial intelligence, we talk of an experimental approach. Testing. Iteration. Getting a large data set.
And yet, for the first 24 years of my live, like many Australians, I've largely lived in a major city (Sydney, 5.5M people) with a few short-term stints* elsewhere.
Doesn't sound very experimental to me.
I could spend my whole life living in a big city, but what if another lifestyle suited me better? How would I know?
Ewingsdale, Byron Shire, New South Wales, Australia
In a century where climate change will likely be the number one challenge, I realised that food is one of the most fundamental components of how we use environmental resources.
Pretty much everyone eats several times a day, so if we can change how people eat, we can make a big dent in the sustainability equation.
However, I knew very little about where my food was coming from, and how to grow it more sustainability.
So decided to volunteer up at an organic permaculture vegetable farm and learn some practical skills in gardening/farming to grow my own food back home. Additionally, I wanted to understand how to source ingredients and choose meals that are more sustainable for the environment. Coming from a vegan lifestyle, this was a factor of particular interest as something being vegan doesn't inherently make it sustainable.
I spent 1 month living in a tin shed with a Venezuelan ex-actor, a Swiss ex-hairdresser, a British geography student, and an Irish ex-banker and horsehand. Each day I would get up at around 5:40am and work from 6am - 11:30am with a half hour break.
What struck me as remarkable was how people around the Byron Shire (not Byron Bay itself) had lower income & wealth than friends in Sydney, but were on average happier, healthier, less stressed, had more flexible lifestyles, were more deeply connected with their neighbours & local community, were more conscious of their food supply chain, and spent more time in nature.
Coming back from Ewingsdale, I was experientially shocked by the paradox that Sydney, which is far more densely populated, is somehow less connected and communal.
<aside> 🤗 We live in such densely populated areas, and yet, most of barely know most of the neighbours on our street.
Many of our close friends live 30 minutes away, 1 hour away, sometimes even more.
Cities are fragmented communities and challenge the conception of co-located community on which civilisation is built.
I started to stress test this anecotal dichotomy and researched the relationship between urban living and social, emotional & mental wellbeing.
From The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health:
The physical and social environments of urban life can contribute both positively and negatively to mental health and wellbeing. Cities are associated with higher rates of most mental health problems compared to rural areas: an almost 40% higher risk of depression, over 20% more anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia, in addition to more loneliness, isolation and stress. (click here for more detail).
Over the past 18 months, this is the hypothesis I am beginning to form based on these anecdotal experiences and research: