When I moved several months ago, one of the major tasks I had to face was finding a place to live. While personal matters (living close to my significant other) were certainly the primary factor in my choice, I, like most people, considered a wide array of other issues as well. Things like the cost of rent, proximity to my new job and the grocery store, the neighborhood around where I live, and the lack or availability of particular amenities like air conditioning in the dwelling all factored into my decision.
While driving to work today, I realized that there was a hugely important consideration that I had entirely neglected, and which I suspect most other people entirely ignore when looking for a new home. Since I’ve moved, I have found that my commute to and from work has been notably less onerous than it used to be. This is strange to me, because my drive is not really any shorter than it ever was, and if anything, the traffic is worse. In spite of this, my whole experience is improved by the simple fact that I now live East of where I work.
Living to the east of my workplace is great because it means that when I am driving into work in the morning, I am heading West, with the rising sun at my back. In the evening, driving Eastward home, the setting sun is once again at my back. Prior to my move, the opposite was true.
It seems like such a trivial thing, but not squinting into the sun while I drive makes the commute less stressful, safer, and because I can clearly see out the windshield, notably more scenic. Thinking about this on my way to work this morning, and then again on the way home, has made me wonder to what extent this simple thing is factored into urban planning.
The vast majority of Americans drive to work five days a week. The overwhelming majority of those work a schedule that dictates that they are driving during the hours the sun is comparatively low in the sky. Have the people who designed the cities and towns in which this majority lives and works striven to make the experience more enjoyable for us all?
A brief search of the web suggests that considerations such as proximity to water and other natural resources are much more important in the minds of urban planners than something so simple as the direction the sun rises each day. I certainly acknowledge that many of these other factors are hugely important. Nevertheless, I’d like to suggest that on both the large scale of urban planning and the small scale of one person’s choice of where to live, the ability to get to and from work without spending your commute squinting painfully into the sun, day in and day out, would be worth at least considering.
-posted by Mark