In many ways, cities resemble enormous super-organisms. They have a real, physical, relationship with their environment. They need to transport vital elements through and around themselves. They generate productive and innovative solutions to local problems, as well as various “wastes” that they need to dispose of. They have communication systems and network with other nearby super-organisms. They are, themselves, a constitution of living and evolving populations of widely diverse organisms, all with their own motivations and agency. Over time, they grow, evolve, and wither. But cities also have another quality which not all organisms share: the idea of the city—in humans—is contagious. Cities, and city-ness, are known to spread. Large ones sprawl out. New small ones emerge. And every day the number of people living in cities grows, as does the overall percentage of city-living humans on Earth. We have become, overall, an urban species.
Thus, the “city squirrel” lifestyle ideal is a means of thriving within the urban organism in our shared and fast-coming future. It encompasses three primary concepts which all overlap and adapt over time. They are, in no particular order: a healthy body; a healthy mind; and a healthy stewardship of the environment. Much like the more-conventional “city mouse”, city squirrels thoroughly infiltrate every nook and cranny of urban life; modern cities just happen to be getting so enormous that they now touch the clouds and require more vertical looking and traversing. Navigating like a squirrel among the towering apexes of the urban jungle is much more effective than simple ground-based mousing around.
The core of “city squirrel” environmentalism is to lead a life which utilizes the more-environmentally-friendly network of goods and services that can be provided only through cities, as the mechanisms which govern the dynamics of urban commercial markets arise from economies of scale, and affect businesses, consumers, residents, governments, and everyone and everything in-between. Modern smart cities, when they are developed and maintained properly, generate a less-energy-intensive provision of electricity, public transit, temperature control in residences and public spaces, hydrological and waste cycling, and supply chain streamlining, among countless other positive impacts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. They are worthy of support.
A city squirrel understands that his own future depends upon the health of his environment and it is only through his own stewardship of that environment that he can hope to have a healthy relationship with it (and yes, all people need to recognize this, but the inclusive use of the feminized pronoun “her” or neutral “their” in this particular instance would read as if we are trying to put this burden on the women/nonconforming of this world, and under these particular circumstances, we feel that men really ought to hear this particular part as being directed toward them). This stewardship cannot be achieved if one “bites off” more than they need, such as occurs in the process of suburbanization, which results, among many things, in individuals occupying more space than necessary, with unnecessarily longer commutes in unnecessarily larger and less-eco-friendly vehicles with few or only one occupant. (This process generally occurs under the premise that cities are dirtier and less safe, but if that’s really the case, here’s an idea: take your money and your “good intentions” and move into the city, pay taxes, vote, and you, yourself, participate in the civic change you supposedly want to happen.)
An effective city squirrel can significantly reduce, and even reverse many of the impacts of their own carbon footprint. It is easy, in a well-planned city, to completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels for transportation on the individual level. Walking—which is also the single greatest contributor to a healthier physical lifestyle—quickly becomes easier in-and-of itself; human beings generate endurance through repetition, and in a few short weeks, any able-bodied individual can walk the few-blocks-worth of distance to the nearest grocery store and back with a few pounds of groceries for the next couple of days. In effectively developed cities, groceries are never more than a mile away from any residence, and they are frequently within a block or two. Or, a city squirrel could take the nearby subway. Or ride a bike, maybe even with a basket. Or, a city squirrel could ride one of the local or regional buses (more of which are being electrified every day) that come to one of the many stops in every neighborhood. All of these transit methods are available and effective in large, well-organized cities, and all of them are healthier for the individual and the environment than driving one’s self in one’s own car. We’re describing the ideal, remember.
If you couldn’t tell by now, a city squirrel thrives most in larger, mega-cities which offer layer-upon-layer of social services at many different price tiers, yet also always have a cheapest version at a bare-minimum price that’s accessible to even the lowest wage earners in any given city. All of this being the case, mobility is also a fundamental aspect of city squirrel life-living. As circumstances change and different desirable and harmful elements of an urban environment swell and shrink, a city squirrel exercises their abilities to “read the terrain” of their shifting environment, adapt to the circumstances, and migrate to a more hospitable location with more varied and more-eco-friendly social services, amenities, civic infrastructure, and demographics. A city squirrel generally does not strive to “lay down roots” like mortgage-chained homeowners do with their residence choices, opting instead to “lay down routes” in order to create the most efficient routes to travel through and to various places. And maybe even more importantly, a true city squirrel maintains a close communication with many elements of their own psyche, and does so in order to clearly receive and interpret their environment and their interrelationship with it. Humans are natural creatures; we both live in, and have a relationship with our host environment, despite what some may proclaim. Since each individual environment offers a unique set of characteristics, it is rational and healthy to be responsive to the psychological habitability of any given lifestyle arrangement.
The city squirrel lifestyle may not be ideal for all types of people, but for those who retain the psychological fortitude to navigate and thrive in large urban environments, it is a richly rewarding and mind-expanding manner of living in modern society. True, for some, there are many stressors present in large cities, such as incessant noise, crowds, the pace of life, different social dynamics and demands, and sometimes confusing and overlapping mashups of cultures and languages. But for others—we city squirrels—the sprawling urban jungle of mega-cities holds endless opportunity.
Every city has its own sounds and smells and atmospheres. People are different, and so, different environments are naturally more or less appealing to different individuals, but there is also an appreciable uniqueness to the total sum feeling that living in each city holds. Being aware of and observant of each city’s unique voice/color/spirit/music/vibe is an ever-unfolding process and gives substantial benefits to those who undertake its practice.
City squirrels in large cities across the world are absorbing and experiencing and interacting with people and cultures far removed from those of their upbringing. This multicultural exposure, which is intrinsic in all large cosmopolitan cities, is mind-expanding for its participants, and a very healthy framing experience for the human ego. It is no mystery why, as cities grow, they generally become more democratic. Likewise, in smaller cities, where a single demographic group dominates, it is no mystery why particular brands of groupthink frequently prevail. It is up to the individual to determine whether they are more inclined to adjust to the psychological habitability of the more cosmopolitan and multicultural life provided by larger cities or to the generally more conservative and singularly motivated life provided by smaller towns, suburbs, and rural areas. A city squirrel’s choice is obvious.
As city squirrels navigate and learn how to thrive in new and differing urban environments, they constantly update their skill set and expand their financial literacy through exposure alone. Concerted attention and analysis of new economic environments can greatly compound the fruits of this effort. All of the new information that gets absorbed from the diversified life in major urban centers contributes to an expanding idea of humanity and provides a constantly-stimulating intellectual environment. In other words, actively participating in city life produces strong learners from its participants. A city squirrel takes these intellectual skills along with them wherever they go, and this provides a level of confidence and self-assurance that is otherwise very difficult to come by, especially for those who hail from an area with broadly held beliefs of intellectual conservatism and/or simpletism.
A city squirrel strives to give a large slice of conscious priority to their own physical health. Daily stretches of walking or biking as transportation, the carrying of one’s own purchases to and from destinations, and an attempt to prioritize the cooking of one’s own food are some of the simplest and most effective ways to maintain good physical health as an active city squirrel.
Pollution is a serious threat to physical health in many large cities, and a smart city squirrel is always aware of this. Masks can also be worn in such a protective capacity and have been worn for many years in large cities all across the world, primarily in Asia (many white Americans don’t know this, though now, perhaps a few fewer.) An effective city squirrel understands that their strongest defense against the physical threat of pollution is, once again, mobility.
A city squirrel is empowered and confident enough to pick up the set of belongings that she migrates with and move to another city with healthier environmental conditions. It is not a great worry to a city squirrel to move because the city squirrel always takes with her the financial literacy that she has gained along the way. She knows the skills she has learned, the people she has engaged with, and the cultures and languages she has been exposed to already, and she knows that she can adapt and survive in any urban environment whose people are willing to have her. She is not attached to a great swath of physical possessions like furniture or large appliances, as they are always available as needed in a new city from local markets, thrift stores or internet delivery.
In another aspect of urban life that cannot be overlooked in terms of its effects on an individual’s physical health and physiology, social interaction is a prevalent component of daily life in mega-cities. And in large and larger cities—as many who have never been to one may not acutely realize—a great deal of social interaction occurs primarily at a superficial level. There are simply too many people and too much going on for everyone to be trying to get to know everyone else, so many social interactions may feel much more transactional to small town folk than they are familiar or comfortable with. In many cases, appearances alone may strongly dictate the terms of any given social engagement. If one is unclean, or appearing in something culturally inappropriate, or touristy, or too informally, or too brashly, or any number of possibly offending visual conditions, the interaction will probably not bear the same fruit as might otherwise have been possible with a better aesthetic impression. The city squirrel who pays attention knows all of this and strives to always present an appearance that is “easy to swallow” by those who they’ll be interacting with. Basic hygiene and cleanliness, clean and appropriate attire and footwear, manners and social etiquette, these are all “bread and butter” givens for active city squirrels, and also greatly contribute to the individual’s overall level of physical well-being. The fact that the greater population densities of mega-cities also generally represents a greater volume of potential sexual partners is also a well-known fact among city squirrels, and since multiethinic babies are obviously the most beautiful, this is an acceptable situation.
Some great contrasts between the city squirrel lifestyle and that of the conventional “American Dream” exist in their respective attitudes towards material possessions and societal connection. City squirrels live a much more materially minimal lifestyle, and a true city squirrel could never imagine having enough “stuff” to fill an entire three bedroom house. The thought of having that much “baggage” alone is likely repulsive all by itself. This idea, of course, extends also to personal modes of transportation. The conventional white-picket-fence fantasy includes at least one family car, and in many households these days, the cars can even outnumber the occupants in the home. This is ridiculous, of course, to the city squirrel, who never needs to worry about the expenses of purchasing a car, or registration, or fuel, or oil, or tire rotations, or regulatory checks, or tabs, or insurance, or repairs, or parking, or standard maintenance, or towing, or time and sanity lost in traffic, or cosmetic upgrades to an already purchased vehicle, or the entirely unnecessary upgrade to a new vehicle because the Joneses across the neighborhood got the new model so now you can’t be the schmuck with the cheapest car on the street.
Another aspect of the materially minimal (heavy-weight intellectual) lifestyle of the city squirrel (which, by the way, lightens the figuratively material load upon the mind) is their integrated use of technology, specifically, the smart phone. Frequently, a city squirrel can be found in a sort of duality, a connected-but-disconnected state of technological integration wherein the modern tools of society are of high use and widely available to them, yet they remain severed in many ways from direct contact through technology. There is broad freedom in this liminal space if the city squirrel can create a sort of moat, or stopgap, which screens out incoming notifications and other types of social “barbs” that enter into modern life uninvited and hold influential sway over decisions, as well as clog up mental energy and make time management virtually impossible. One way of accomplishing this is to purge one’s technological tools of any SIM cards. Major cosmopolitan cities around the world have made WiFi access ubiquitous in highly populous areas, and a resourceful city squirrel can easily find all the connectivity via WiFi that they need to stay plugged in and ahead of the curve. Fun Fact: WiFi-only mobile activity also extends battery life on pretty much all devices. Double-Fun Fact: Turning OFF ALL phone notifications returns the power of the phone to you so that you use it on your own time, in your own way, as opposed to the default nightmare—it using you.
Moreover, because city squirrels are so self-driven and self-sufficient (especially in pairs), their movements through the infrastructure of society are typically quicker and cleaner, with less friction and more discovery. City squirrels have broad control over how they spend their time (greatly supported by the practice of never organizing their activities around waiting to confirm details with others) and so, generally have more time in a given day to use as they wish. The debilitating effects of the “tyranny of the urgent” is greatly exacerbated by mobile connectivity and the Internet of Everything (IoE), but in our experience, it is suburbanization, suburban sprawl, and suburbanites who have more gravely contributed to the internet-induced lethargy, illiteracy and unproductive lifestyles of many humans in highly-developed nations. Modern megacities offer an environment that is so technologically amenity-rich that thoughtful and resourceful city squirrels can easily find ways to navigate urban life with high dexterity, high productivity, and healthy psychological development.
There are always new and exciting facets of city squirrel-ism emerging as cities grow and evolve, and human society adapts along with it.
At the Threshold
The city squirrel lifestyle takes some physical effort, requires learning and some level of diligence, and necessitates an acceptance of endless future change that will have to be adapted to. None of these things need be considered obstacles to successful city squirrel living as they each afford countless benefits in their own right, and even more in combination. It is not always easy. It is more enjoyable when experienced with a partner. It is much more environmentally friendly than any other type of on-grid lifestyle. And it is fun, interesting, rewarding, eco-conscious, stimulating, awe-striking, endlessly evolving, and, most importantly, it is possible.
We live a city squirrel life. If you really want to, you will too.
1 – Eco-innovations in Designing Eco-cities and Eco-towns – The Smart City Journal – https://www.thesmartcityjournal.com/en/articles/eco-innovations-eco-cities-eco-towns#:~:text=Green%20townships%20can%20reduce%20energy%20consumption%20of%20infrastructural,equipment%20can%20be%20to%20the%20tune%20of%2020-30%25.
2 – Smart Cities Dive – https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/topic/tech-and-data/
3 – UN 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects – https://population.un.org/wup/
4 – What is a Smart City – https://www.thezebra.com/resources/driving/what-is-a-smart-city/
5 – Predictive Energy Optimization – https://cleantechnica.com/2014/02/12/predictive-energy-optimization-smart-buildings-smart-grids-smart-cities/