Hello all – welcome to A View from Suburbia.
I grew up in a very, very small town – just about two hours from New York and two hours from Boston (it’s not Stars Hollow, but it feels like it sometimes). Like many of us who spent our formative years in that sort of insular community, cities have an irresistible hold on me. I love their sites, smells, noises, people, crowds, buildings, bridges, trains, I love the mess and the grime and the anonymity. The world’s great cities provide an opportunity for an individual to be part of something big, something unique.
Unspoiled nature is beautiful, and I’ll never complain about an afternoon spent wandering around green forest trails. But cities have people, and that makes all the difference. People in nature are disruptive – nothing is more annoying when you are trying to take pictures of the wilderness than other people trying to take photos of the wilderness (how dare they!). Cities are the opposite – people are the lifeblood, and their beauty comes from those people and from their interactions, the millions and millions of little moments that make up the tapestry of life in a city.
Not to say that these moments don’t exist in the small town where I’m from and thousands like it – they do. And not to say that they are any less important because of that location – they certainly aren’t. But you can wander the streets of a small town for hours and catch one or two interactions. You can’t throw a rock in a city without hitting a beautiful, authentic moment of humanity (note: depending on the city this might be a terrible idea).
All of this somewhat floral prose is to say I really, really like cities. I also don’t live in one now, for a few reasons (okay, one – money). I’m going to be writing about them here, specifically about the things that people are doing to shape them. Many people throughout history have thought that they could change cities to make them better – cleaner, greener, more organized. They sought to take the wriggling mass of humanity and press it into something geometric, something neat. In the process a lot of people were hurt, displaced, or worse (yeah, that’s all a pretty major understatement. Don’t worry, that subject will occupy several posts in the future). I don’t see cities as a mass of putty that we can take and mold into our image, but they also aren’t untouchable. We can help encourage strong urban cores, walkable and bikeable cities, access to transit systems, access to affordable housing, all things to help cities do what they do best – provide a place for people to spend their precious hours of life.
I haven’t settled on an overall tone for this space yet, so we’re going to start throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Over the next few weeks (or months, we’ll see how much time I have) I’ll post urban planning news, personal anecdotes and analyses of various cities I’ve visited, book reviews, and whatever else comes to mind (probably a lot about trains. I’ve always liked trains). If that sounds interesting, keep reading – I don’t know what it will look like, but at the very least I hope to be entertaining.