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Thursday, November 04, 2010

The City Reconsidered (again)

I lived in downtown Seattle before moving to Valencia, Spain several years ago. Both of these moves weren’t accidents. I wanted to live without a car. I wanted to walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation.  So many Americans think that cities are crime-ridden, impersonal, and just basically awful places to live. I guarantee that I know more people in my neighborhood than any suburbanite living in a Road Warrior-inspired gated community.  I think it’s pretty pathetic that so many people have to drive everywhere to effect their daily needs (not to mention a big, fat commute to work).  If a parking lot is a constant companion you should think about a change.

Spain has the city building thing down to an exact science (except in places where they are attempting to build American-style suburbs). In Valencia almost every block is like a little self-contained village. The proximity of Spanish city life creates a familiarity among the inhabitants. You walk by the same people every day so it’s almost impossible not to say hello.  Even the surliest of barmen will break down and say “Buenas Tardes” after you walk into their place for the 10th time for an afternoon coffee. I recently bumped into my Pakistani barber in the aisle of a store and chatted for a bit (OK, it’s a Pakistani store where I buy spices but it’s still a coincidence).  If I had to leave my neighborhood for another area of the city I would be leaving a lot behind in the way of acquaintances and goodwill.

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