When I was in college, I took this class called “The City in Western Civilization.” It was taught by an art history professor and an history professor.
We read some excerpts from this book called Suburban Nation that extolled the virtues of urban living, its efficiency, relative safety (because if you scream your neighbors can hear you), and the lower cost to sustain it.
Later I bought the book and developed a composition course around it, because I found the idea that the notion that suburbs represent an American Dream is flawed to be liberating. Gosh that was awkward.
What I mean is that it was freeing to consider the fact that maybe the “American Dream” as I understood it was not so dreamy after all.
Of course we talked about “Bowling for Columbine,” and the phenomenon of extreme isolation and dangerous behavior from anti social personality types. I was in high school when all that was happening, so it was still timely only a few years later.
But while it’s great to have facts and statistics and green values to support my love of cities, I don’t care a lick about any of that.
Here’s my roundup.
1. Ethnic Food. I live in a sizeable town now. The best ethinc food around is Joy Thai, and it’s not that great. I miss access to Ethiopian, Thai, Japanese, Indian, so on. I miss the ethnic markets where none of the packaging is in English so you know or you gamble.
2. There’s always somebody around to notice when I’m amusing. I narrate my life. I am often funny. Where I live, I drive around in my car by myself, and so does everybody else. In cities, I take busses and trains and subways and whenever I crack wise, even though they don’t look directly at me, someone usually snickers. That is affirmation, and it brings me joy.
3. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. It is so much easier to hop on a bus that you know will run at 3 a.m. if you want to go drink a little bit too much. It’s nice to let someone else buy the gas and pay for the tires and maintenance.
4. Even if you live in the same place for a lot of years, you can still do and learn new stuff. When Child and I went to NYC, we rode the tram (image above), and it was our host’s first time, too. Even though she has lived in the city longer than a decade. Here’s a picture of her and child.
5. Constant Live Entertainment. Some guy will be telling jokes on a corner. A few other guys will hop on the train with their guitars and serenade the riders. Somebody will be juggling in the street, there will be a troupe of contortionists performing in a park or public courtyard.
6. Nobody moves slowly. I love the pace. I love that if you slow down, you get trampled. I love that scampering rat race, dog-eat-dog energy. It makes me feel good at things.
7. I will be surprised if nobody argues this with me in the comments, but people are friendly in cities! You bump into someone, they say excuse me. People smile as they pass. They get doors. They help folks who are lost, engage with people who’re clearly tourists. I feel safe in this environment.
I could go on, but what do you think?