11.6 Diet: Environment and Urban Sustainability

Author: Madeleine Jung-Grennan

Date Submitted: April 1, 2022

Do small fridges make better cities?

ABSTRACT: In 2007, Architect Donald Chong developed a concept called, “Small Fridges Make Better Cities,” and it essentially proposed that if we could shop locally more often, use smaller fridges, and walk to the store instead of drive, it would open up our neighbourhoods to less traffic and more lively and connected communities. This paper discusses the benefits of this idea and its downfalls, exploring why this only works if you live in a walkable neighbourhood with all your necessities nearby. 

(Gonzalez Escobar, 2020)


In 2007, Architect Donald Chong developed a concept called, “Small Fridges Make Better Cities,” which outlined this idea that if we could make changes within our homes, it may have major impacts on our neighbourhood environments. In particular, the idea is that if we have smaller fridges, we would shop more frequently at shops nearby, using our cars less, creating more vibrant streets with less traffic, as well as becoming more in tune with harvest seasonality. 

This scenario of having smaller fridges would cause us to grocery shop more frequently, visiting local markets, bakeries and grocery shops, which would in turn mean that a great deal of our food would be much fresher, having been replenished every few days. It might allow us to eat out more often, engaging with our friends and communities. Less space would be required to be dedicated to food, as our fridges would essentially reduce by half in size, and the idea of stocking up would diminish. Another positive impact would be using less energy. Currently refrigerators account for  about 15% of household energy costs, so a smaller fridge would use quite a bit less energy. Finally, it would result in less food being thrown away. If you are only shopping for what you need, you are likely to have a lot less wasted food.  Food waste  is responsible for 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The main issue with this premise is that it doesn’t take into account how most North Americans grocery shop, the way food is packaged in North America, as well as the urban planning of a lot of towns and cities. The three top factors to have increased as priority for shoppers in the pandemic are Store Location,  Competitive Pricing and Store Cleanliness. A lot of people live quite far from their stores and need to plan ahead, and shop for multiple weeks. Lloyd Alter wrote an article titled “Small Fridges Don’t Make Good Cities; It’s More Accurate to Say That Good Cities Make Small Fridges”. He outlines this statement, arguing that this idea of a small fridge only works if you live in a neighbourhood that has all the necessities within walking distance, such as grocery stores, bakeries, butchers, and any other food staples. If this isn’t the case, it makes it very difficult to go shopping so frequently, therefore making it next to impossible to be able to fit everything a family might need into one small fridge .  Another point that is forgotten in this idea, is that North American packaging is quite bulky to some other places, like Europe, where this way of shopping is much more prevalent. All of this points in the direction of urban planning before small fridges. Cities need to be designed in ways to make this realistic for most consumers. Everyone having a small fridge isn’t going to get rid of needing to drive to the store, if the closest store is an hour long walk or more. If our cities could be designed this way, we could then have a major impact on Co2 emissions.  In a USDA study, they found that if the average family drives 4 miles  once a week to their local grocery store, they will be releasing over 17  million metric tons of Co2 per year, just from their car tailpipes. 

In conclusion, with the current rise in grocery prices,  real estate prices and the cost of living in general, it is not always a feasible option to shop locally, or at a small business.  There is a fundamental shift in society  that needs to happen to make the small fridge a realistic option for the masses. It will come down to building better cities that are better connected, and raising the minimum wage to a living wage. This could be a really great solution to reducing carbon emissions, but we need to check first if these types of ideas are accessible to all, or only to the privileged. If it’s only for the privileged, then we must assess what it is that is stopping everyone from having access to having an impact on climate change, and what needs to happen in order to provide options for everyone.


Alter, L. (2018, October 11). Small fridges don’t make good cities; it’s more accurate to say that good cities make small fridges. Treehugger.

Aull, B., Perkins, A. D., Kohli, S., & Marohn, E. (2021, June 8). The state of grocery in North America. McKinsey & Company.

Donald Chong Studio. (2007). Small Fridges Make Good Cities.

Donald Chong Studio. (n.d.). Small fridges make good cities. Derek Nicholson

Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). What If More People Bought Groceries Online Instead of Driving to a Store? EPA.

Lehrke, Z. (2021, July 21). Accounting for reductions: The Carbon Footprint of a package-free grocery store. Nada.

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