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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Those Hotels Down The Street

October 21, 2011, Washington, DC: It was Thanksgiving 1990 when my parents first took us to New York City. It was shortly after they announced we’d be moving from Baltimore to the Northeast. At my sister’s request, we visited the Plaza Hotel that weekend, searching its hallways for Eloise, the fictitious character just her age who called the famed hotel home.

That’s my first recollection of experiencing how hotels play a part in the cities around them. Some great hotels would become my neighbors as I moved from New York and San Francisco to Washington, DC. In each place, those hotels down the street would bring a specific flavor to the neighborhood. They’d help cities do what they do so well. They’d make those neighborhoods welcoming havens for locals and travelers alike.

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Oh, Won’t You Stay?

October 4, 2011, Washington, DC: We could stay there in Chicago, I think. We could help the grandparents unpack. Attend the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago the weekend after next. We could stay to witness the growth of the city’s bike sharing program, to spend time with our cousin as her schedule lightens up. We could stay for the countless restaurants still on our list, stay to walk neighborhoods from Printer’s Row to Bucktown, Logan Square to the Gold Coast. We could catch the exhibit we’ve now twice failed to see at the Museum of Science and Industry. We could cheer on next weekend’s marathoners. We could get out on the Lake. We could see the sights. We could sink back in.

There’s always reason to stay in Chicago.

But there’s reason to come home to Washington, too.

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Map of Mornings: Lincoln Park

This is one in a series of morning photo essays documenting neighborhoods around town.

October 2, 2011, Chicago, IL: I slipped out early this morning into my old neighborhood. From the Lincoln Park Zoo by Lake Michigan, I walked west on Armitage, with occasional detours down its side streets, including one that was once my own.

A friendly row of bikes lined the sidewalk as I rounded the corner off Armitage towards the old apartment, as if to say, “This way home! Welcome back!”

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The Enormity of a City

October 1, 2011, Chicago, IL: The enormity of this town is striking if you’ve been gone for awhile, from every perspective and from every angle. From above, you’re a monster looking down upon miniature cars, on people the size of ants. From below, sleek buildings loom large on narrow lots, rising seemingly higher than in any city you’ve known. If you’re returning here after time away, even Starbucks is bigger, the space designed for giants. People are taller here too; you feel shorter than ever in a crowded bar.

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Sweet Home Chicago

September 30, 2011, Washington, DC: I’m heading back to Chicago today, back to one of my former hometowns. Like the photo taken in my old Chicago apartment pictured above, my recollections of this city are bright and welcoming and familiar and textured. The Chicago I know includes that one-of-a-kind second story apartment off Armitage St. in the neighborhood of Lincoln Park, where lived in a red brick rowhouse just above its owners from mid-2004 to mid-2005. I loved pretty much everything about that place. What’s not to love about exposed brick and a shadow like that one bursting through the front window off the street?

But that wall full of sunlight is indeed just the surface. There’s far more to love about hometown Chicago.

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The Plan – A Year Spent Traveling Through My Many Hometowns

June 16, 2011, Washington, DC: Okay, so maybe it seems an odd choice to begin a year-long study into the concept of home with nearly three weeks of travel. But here’s why it makes sense to me: In 32 years, I have lived in 27 houses or apartments in a dozen cities or towns. There is no one place I call home. I grew up with parents who spent weekends visiting open houses. I love to rearrange furniture. Movement has always been part of the home equation.

And so I begin this project with travel. For the next 365 days, I will study the sociology of our homes, our neighborhoods, and the power of physical place in a virtual world. I will visit each of my past hometowns and learn about the pulse of the neighborhoods in which I have lived, from Montreal to San Francisco, Chicago to New York.

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