June 10, 2012, Washington, DC: These are roads I know like the back of my hand. They are the routes we traveled to swim practice and gymnastics and piano lessons and school. Yesterday morning in North Baltimore, I instinctively took shortcuts down side streets and noticed changes in traffic patterns, piecing together a map of so many mornings from my youth. We spent a lot of time in the car growing up in North Baltimore.
Given that it’s summertime, I retrace the best morning drive of all: the one that led straight to Hampton Pool.
“People would ask me after we had decided to stay, “Well, when are you coming back?” “Well, we’re not. We are living here.” “Oh, but you can’t just—you’ve got to come back to real life.” And I would say, “It’s just as real.” This is very hard for Americans to understand and I think that may be the biggest difference between Americans and people elsewhere. Canadians know that there are places just as real as Canada.”
-Jane Jacobs, on moving from New York to Toronto, from a March 2001 interview by Jim Kunstler for Metropolis Magazine
June 5, 2012, Washington, DC: The late Jane Jacobs is best known in the States for her years as a quintessential New Yorker: Her observations about city living on Greenwich Village’s Hudson Street and her vocal opposition to building a highway on the Lower East Side shaped not only the city itself, but influenced the way we think about major metropolises. But the godmother of urban studies would later make another city her home. In the late 1960s, Jacobs, then in her early 50s, relocated with her family from New York to Toronto, where she was actively involved from the get-go both in the city’s politics and in the more subtle rhythms of its lively streets. Shortly after moving in, Jacobs helped put an stop to the completion of Toronto’s Spadina Expressway, a proposed north-south highway that would chop the city in half, just as she had spoken up against Robert Moses in New York. Various Toronto writers at the time of Jacobs’ death in 2006 reminisced about seeing her out and about on Bloor St. in the Annex neighborhood where she lived near Bathhurst subway station and lingering regularly in her neighborhood bookstore, always vigorously participating in her hometown. Jacobs lived in Toronto for nearly half her life and became a Canadian citizen in 1974.
For those of us who believe in Jacobs’ conviction that strong, active and diverse neighborhoods are the lifeblood of successful cities, the proof is every bit as evident in Toronto as it is in New York.
Home in Toronto, 1981
June 4, 2012, Toronto: Our old hometown has grown up considerably since we left just like we have. Real estate prices are high, construction teams are busy, and the city of Toronto has come into its own. Six miles from the massive condos and highrises in the center of the city’s core, the changes are equally apparent in the family-friendly urban neighborhood of Moore Park. This weekend, we returned to the very street where we lived thirty years ago to visit an old friend now raising a family of his own just down the block. Our old house is looking older and wiser these days. More settled in its foundation. More comfortable in its own skin.
The trees, too, are a striking indicator of how much this place has grown. Through the lens of one 30-something year old photograph of my dad and I sitting on the front steps of our old place, I’d imagined we lived in a part of town that was open and bright without much shade. On the contrary, it is lush and green and full of life teeming from a lovely mixture of old and modern homes packed tightly together on flat, shaded streets. I suppose it should come as no surprise that the neighborhood has aged like the rest of us, and that the landscaping and tree cover is more mature too.
Today in Toronto, we are miles from the start of our work week. For our old friends waking up in Moore Park, this is a typical Monday morning.
Home in Toronto, 2012
Miles From Monday is a weekly feature that allows us to venture out of the spaces we inhabit during our weekday routines and retreat to those landscapes that feel far from the start of the work week.
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May 31, 2012, Washington, DC: From the liveaboard community at Gangplank Marina to the mid-century modern architecture of the Tiber Island and River Park cooperative homes, Southwest DC has its own thing going on. And it’s the perfect place for Cecille Chen, a lover of history, architecture, design and modernism. Judging from her explosive involvement in the neighborhood from the moment she moved it, this is clearly what it means to find a natural and built environment that brings out the best in you.
This is what it means to be in your element.
May 28, 2012, Washington, DC: It’s on these hot summer nights that arrive unseasonably early in Washington that we romanticize Vieux Montreal. We let our minds wander back down the narrow streets and alleyways in the oldest part of the city and we recall — sweating — what it was like to feel cold there. Downing lemonade with extra ice, we remember fondly our dinner by a fireplace on Rue Saint-Paul back in December when the cobblestones were slick from an icy rain turning to snow. We remember feeling oh-so-Parisian during that lunch of butternut squash soup and red wine at the luxurious Hotel Nelligan, and we consider how quickly time passes — that it feels like just yesterday we ducked into Bon Secours Market for hot chocolate and now we’re darting into DC’s museums desperate for a blast of cold air.
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.