Before I Go on Staycation…

June 21, 2012, Washington, DC: I’m planning to take a little staycation. I’m not going anywhere and I’ll most certainly be back — just taking a brief hiatus from regular blog posts to reflect on this year’s project and collect my thoughts concerning what happens next. New ideas are keeping me up at night and I couldn’t be more excited. I look forward to sharing them with you soon.

Before I go, I invite you to participate here on Neighborhood Nomad. Your stories about why you love where you live are intriguing and inspiring. They reinforce the power of place and they remind us of the extent to which our geography shapes us. Collecting and producing reader interviews has been one of the best parts of this effort so far, and every single one of you has distinctive stories to tell about the rhythms of your home, your neighborhood, your town or your city. Shoot me a note. Tell me more about your hometown.

More to come! As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Miles From One Year Ago…

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

June 19, 2012, Washington, DC: In June 2011, I embarked on a year-long project that would bring me back to each of my hometowns to learn more about the places I’d lived. There were many that had shaped me — from Montreal and Toronto to San Francisco and New York — and I wanted to get a good feel for their geography, their people, their neighborhoods and their pulses. I also wanted to examine, broadly speaking, why people live where they do and what makes a place feel like home. With ample vacation days, multiple frequent flyer tickets, many tanks of gas, several bicycles, and a few good pairs of walking shoes, I covered extensive ground in twelve months. The project, Neighborhood Nomad, is documented on this blog, derived from a love of travel and a longstanding obsession with the power of place.

The study came full circle this weekend, ending up where it started on a Virginia vineyard. And so with the advent of summer comes an opportunity to revisit the year I spent traveling back to my former neighborhoods. I’ve come miles from one year ago, and I’ve logged all of them in hopes of better understanding the places we called home.

Read on for a chronological overview of this year’s travels back home…

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One Year, Ten Photos

“It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?'”
-Lawrence Durrell

June 15, 2012, Washington, DC: The first entry on this blog is dated June 16, 2011. 365 days ago. In reality, the launch of this year-long project is a little softer than that — the idea had been stewing for months, but was birthed in its current structure just as we kicked off our wedding weekend. The first several entries were scribbled down in a blue plastic notebook bought in a Santorini drugstore on our honeymoon before they went live in the blogosphere.

This weekend, in other words, is a first anniversary celebration in more ways than one.

To mark the milestone, the next few posts will reflect on what’s happened here during the course of the year – beginning with a roundup of ten of my favorite photos that emerged from Neighborhood Nomad: One Year of Travel Through My Many Hometowns. I’ve loved having an excuse this year to lug around my fancy camera, test out new photography apps on the iPhone, and document my surroundings through various lenses. Read more to see a handful of the photos that have made an impression…

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Happy 75th, Golden Gate

May 28, 2012, Washington, DC: As commutes go, this one ain’t bad. Any pessimism you may have about the day ahead is easy to shake off as you cross the Golden Gate through the microclimates between San Francisco and Marin. On the morning drive, the bridge’s paint color of international orange will give you a jolt stronger than coffee. On the evening ride home, this bridge is the entry back into one of the greatest cities in the world.

It was 75 years ago Sunday that the Golden Gate Bridge first opened, and it’s hard to imagine life without it. In many ways, the Golden Gate is a place I grew up.

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Growing Roots

May 3, 2012, In transit on Amtrak: It’s that time of year again when I vow to learn how to garden. On Sunday, I visited our neighborhood hardware store called Frager’s to pick up my annual supply of soil, plants and seeds. It was a sunny day and the outdoor garden shop was filled with people deliberating over the plants that suited them best and finding the ones they could keep alive. I lugged my selections home and got to work preparing the flower boxes on the back deck like I do every year, reading about the seeds, planting the flowers, convincing myself that this will be the year I’m finally successful in this endeavor. But I can’t begin to pretend I know what I’m doing. I’m not good at this. People say it’s simple, but I find it hard to grow roots.

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The Ballpark as The Catalyst

Photo Credit: Marjorie Childress

April 4, 2012, Washington, DC: I love this photo my friend Marjorie took at what was then Pac Bell Park during a San Francisco Giants game back in 2003. I love how the light hits the grass, casting long shadows onto the field. I love how just out of frame, kayakers paddled behind our seats in the outfield, hoping to pluck a home run ball out of McCovey Cove. In that moment, as the sign there says, there was no place else I could imagine I’d rather be.

But can ballparks evoke that feeling from enough people to help jumpstart a neighborhood? With the Wrigleys and the Fenways wedged tightly into well-established neighborhoods now the rarity, can newer, bigger ballparks in different areas of their cities help revitalize their surroundings? Last night after work, I biked down to Nationals Park, a mile from home, to take a look.

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Documenting Hometown History

Taylor St., Nob Hill, San Francisco, February 2012

“As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.”
-Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

March 3, 2012, Washington, DC: We dined two weeks ago Nob Hill Cafe, my favorite neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco. From our little table on Taylor Street, we sifted through old photos that accompanied a Huffington Post story published that day on the death of one of the few remaining survivors of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. There atop Nob Hill, we scrolled through photos of the very block where we sat, illustrating it completely leveled from the earthquake and fire that destroyed it more than a century ago. The information was available at our fingertips on our phone, as if we’d dug up an old time capsule.

In a sense, we had. For all the talk of the pitfalls of the digital age, we should recognize some of its greatest assets: History is accessible. Readily available information offers us new perspective and insight into experiences we never knew.

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