That observation came to me like a lightening bolt on a recent, and extended, visit to a city I lived in for about 30 years, but left 11 years ago.
There were a number of compounding factors:
- traffic was ridiculous
- road construction was everywhere
- infrastructure had deteriorated
- pedestrians were device-absorbed
- shopping malls had grown into mini-cities
- expansion was viral
- it was bitterly cold
Now that may sound like life blood to some (well, except for that last part), but to me it was layer upon layer of reasons I began to dislike my stay.
There was a reason for my visit. My daughter had to move unexpectedly and fairly quickly which, at 37 weeks pregnant, was going to be an adventure. Four years of a family in a house equals sorting, culling, cleaning, donating… you know the drill. As well as the pregnancy both she and her partner were still working full-time so, as I was in the city house- and critter-sitting for a friend anyway, I volunteered my services.
As with most cities, traffic was busy and congested. I’m sure the cold snap didn’t help as waiting for public transportation became highly uncomfortable. Many traffic patterns had changed with time and, added to changeable construction zones, left me trying to move into a correct lane unexpectedly.
When I lived in this city we would joke that you knew when Spring had arrived because all the major roads were under construction. There are so many reasons to dig up streets it seems now, whether for gas mains, storm drains, sewer routing… and with infrastructure in a state of chaos (my opinion)… if I found a route that didn’t have several crews at work I committed it to memory immediately.
In several of the really large cities I have visited in the last ten years, I have noted the really poor condition of the roads and arteries. Perhaps it’s my motorcycle-riding brain (aka paranoia) but gaping cracks and large potholes are to be avoided, not traversed resignedly. Shopping malls that had grown to uncomfortable proportions eleven years ago were expanding yet again, meaning I often couldn’t find an entrance to the parkade let alone determine which level of the “mini-city” the shop I needed was on. (Am I starting to sound old?)
OK, I’ll admit here I’m the person who bought an obnoxiously bright pink winter jacket last year to help me be seen by drivers now that I’m primarily pedestrian in my smaller home city (after two frighteningly close calls I realize it helps my sense of self-responsibility more than it helps my visibility). That pedestrians would keep their eyes on their devices while traversing intersections given all the above information leaves me shaking my head.
I really do try to buy local when I can so several thoughts come to mind with the mention of malls. I won’t date myself by remembering strip plazas that later became enclosed malls that later became huge malls that now seem to need to be mini-cities. Is it pleasant to spend 2 hours dropping in to one store to pick up an item? Do you like to make a day of wandering the streets and stores and then wondering where the heck you parked? How can the smaller stores afford the rents? And, while I do try to support smaller local merchants, I know there is a huge shift to online and wonder about the future of these mall-towns.
As population in urban areas continues to grow I do understand the concept of expansion, and infill is often the only option. It was a little sad for me to see rows of older homes boarded up awaiting demolishment, with high-density plans on billboards in front. Prices go up, families get pushed further out… and of course traffic is further congested as large equipment does what it needs to do in these areas.
Very little to say here except a bit of a whine about how cold global warming is proving to be. Stay tuned, if Summer is too hot I’ll no doubt whine about that too!!
Back now to my original premise: as the city gets bigger, I find my world getting smaller. That’s a choice. If it’s not fun to drive, or shop, or combat crowds, then it’s easier to stay closer to home. Find the smaller markets that are nearby, hopefully walking distance, and get to know both the merchants and my neighbours.
My greater concern is those for whom it’s not a choice. Driving may no longer be an option, overcrowded public transit can be intimidating, maneuvering mall-cities is exhausting.
Isolation and loneliness are already issues for many elderly and mobility-compromised people.
I don’t have any answers… well, actually I do if the government wants to put me on retainer and give me a huge budget… but that’s a whole other blog post.
How do you feel about the ever-expanding world of city-dom? Do you like it? dislike it? Are you becoming increasingly pedestrian too?
I’d love to know where you live if a pedestrian lifestyle is a fact of your life!