The 29-Day Blogging Challenge: U if for Urban Living
A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again. – Margaret Mead
As people get older, get married, have kids, and ‘settle down’ into life’s routine they tend to shun the city centres, the urban jungle, and move out to the suburbs in search of rolling lawns and picket fences child-friendly parks and graffiti-free storefronts. They leave behind the constant din of the city’s voice, the cacophony of horns and people and dogs and bus bells and wailing sirens and car alarms and the myriad of other ‘noise’ that naturally rises up from an area so densely packed with people. They seek the quiet, the isolated, the artificially constructed landscapes decorated with pre-fab homes and soccer fields and good schools for their kids. They escape the chaos of the urban jungle and take shelter in the order and parceled structure of suburbia.
While not officially a diagnosable fear, unlike coulrophobia and aichmophobia, I am profoundly terrified of ‘the suburbs’. Back in Canada the spread of these neatly designed, allotted, manufactured ‘communities’ can be seen around every major city centre, steadily replacing the natural landscape with “Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky, Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes all the same.” They become a rolling sea of sameness, uniformity, conformity, lacking distinction and character and anything architecturally intriguing. I find these neighbourhoods vapid, uninteresting, soul-leeching, and wholly without any redeeming qualities.
I do of course understand the attraction to living in such an area, especially with young kids and a family in tow. There’s a sense of safety and security, even familiarity, in having these single family dwellings neatly lined up on well manicured streets and cul-de-sacs, a garden and landscaping to tend on warm Saturday afternoons, a friendly wave from a neighbor whilst on your morning walk with the family pooch. I get it; I just don’t want it.
I’m a city boy at heart; always have been, despite having grown up in one of these suburban clone farms. On days off from school I would bus into Toronto and wander the streets, the alleys, the distinct little neighbourhoods, amazed at the symphony of noise around me, the varied and fantastic architecture, the variety of shops and cafes and bodegas and record stores and pubs and one-off restaurants and corner markets and newspaper stands and the swarm of eclectic, unique, fascinating people in every direction. I loved the organized chaos – nothing looked the same, but it all fit together in a magnificently crafted canvas of urban art. Even the graffiti – some crude, basic, and rough, some expertly executed murals that could be proudly displayed in any one of a hundred local galleries – was the city’s effort at accessorizing, like a diamond necklace on a pretty girl.
Admittedly I haven’t spent much time in Stockholm’s ‘suburbs’ so I really don’t know how they compare to the Canadian version of hell (in my humble and perhaps overly harsh opinion). Jill and I live in Östermalm, with just about everything we need easily accessed within a five-minute walk of our front door. With Karlaplan subway station just down the road, and bus stops across the street, every corner of Stockholm is but a short wander, a quick ride, a brief foray into the steady pulse of the city. It is a jungle – albeit an older, more established, less gritty one than I’m used to – but it brims with the same signs of life, with its constant stream of people and cell phone chatter and dog walking and amazing old buildings and bus traffic and honking taxis and sidewalk cafes street vendors and music wafting down from apartments overhead… I think Ezra Pound had it mostly right when he said, “And New York is the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban night is like the night there… Squares after squares of flame, set up and cut into the aether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.” Stockholm, of course, was already well on its way to creating such a stunning labyrinthine urban environment when New York was just a patch of grass and a then-unpolluted river. New York is awesome, but Stockholm is my new favourite playground… for now.
Previous posts: Introducing the 29-Day Blogging Challenge; A is for Anonymity; B is for Busses; C is for Canada; D is for Dogs;E is for Expatriate; F is for Failure;G is for Google; H is for Hedgehog; I is for Indian food; J is for Jill, obviously; K is for Kurt Cobain; L is for Listerine; M is for Mac&Cheez; N is for Night; O if for Olfactory Dysfunction; P is for Photography; Q if for Quest For Fire; R is for Religion; S is for Stockholm; T is for The Local