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Friday, April 10, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities (or one city and a suburb)

Ruzafa neighborhood in Valencia
Two equal areas: one is a typical suburban housing development and the other is my wonderful neighborhood in Valencia. It would be difficult to calculate exactly how many more people live in the lower photo than the suburban area but one thing is apparent: there are no businesses in the top photo, it's strictly housing while everything at street level in the city photo is dedicated to retail. Lengthwise these photos represent over one kilometer which encompasses an almost infinite variety of choices for the city dweller. In the Valencia photo there are probably over 50 restaurants, and that is being very conservative. I would have to think very hard to come up with something that I couldn't find in this small section of my city. 

How far would you have to go to get to a major supermarket, a pharmacy, two fruit and vegetable shops, two telephone company outlets, a shoe repair shop, an appliance store, a couple of shoe stores, a newsstand and internet café, a hairdresser, a yoga studio, a stationery store, a second-hand store, and a tobacconist? I can walk to these places without crossing a single street. If I cross over the street to the four blocks adjacent to my block there are over a dozen cafés and restaurants, three banks, two variety stores (or "Chinos" as they are called here), a Latin American grocery store, two pre-schools, a surf shop, two bakeries, three dentists, a printing shop, a copy center, a tailor, a boutique beer store, a launderette, two car repair garages, an auto parts store, a hardware store, a furniture store, three travel agencies, an electrical supply store, and an architectural firm. All of these businesses are less than about two hundred meters from the front door of my building.

How is this possible? It’s all about population density. An average city block here has around four buildings on each side and each building has about six floors of apartments with two apartments on each floor. This translates into 190 apartments on one block. That means 190 families living on the land used for perhaps ten suburban homes.  Being very conservative let’s say that there are only two occupants in each of the 190 apartments on my block and four people living in each of those suburban homes which means 380 people on my block and 40 people in an equal area in suburbia—almost ten times the density in the average Spanish city block than in the 'burbs.

I spend the better part of my life inside the boundaries of this urban grid which represents the neighborhood of Ruzafa (the biggest building you see towards the left is the food market, the epicenter of the hood). 

Of course, in my neighborhood everyone walks. If you need a bicycle there are five bike-share stations within the confines of the area represented in the photograph with another 5-6 just on the outer boundaries. Just why anyone even bothers to own a car here in Valencia is a mystery to me. I think that most car owners could probably just rent a car once or twice a month and save themselves a lot of expense and headache because if there is one thing my neighborhood doesn't have it's parking, which just isn't my problem these days.
Kent, WA

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