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.

Creative Collisions in the City

June 13, 2012, Washington, DC: There’s a chapter called “Urban Friction” in Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works that focuses on the innovation and great ideas that spring up from the interactions so common in our cities. In it, Talking Heads singer David Byrne describes his bicycle rides around New York City as a means of collecting an urban soundtrack full of sounds that don’t traditionally go together. Lehrer explores how companies can act more like cities by encouraging conversation and the sharing of knowledge. He considers why collaboration across company lines led to the success of Silicon Valley while the promise of a technology boom along Boston’s Rte. 128 died on the vine due in part to nondisclosure agreements and tight lips. A powerhouse in Israel’s tech sector named Yossi Vardi illustrates how more innovation comes from people with many weak ties than from people with fewer stronger ones — whether those weak ties are cultivated during mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Forces or on the sidewalk of a city street. Physicists Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt recount collecting urban data on everything from heightened productivity and walking speed to patent production, concluding, as Lehrer explains, that “the most creative cities are the ones with the most collisions.”

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Jane Jacobs & The Neighborhoods of Toronto

“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.

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Miles From Monday: Old Montreal

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.

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Holiday Weekends in the City

May 26, 2012, Washington, DC: The Friday night and Saturday morning of a holiday weekend is always a good time to enjoy the city. If you’re staying put, you watch the evening traffic head out, bound for the beach or a weekend with family. You watch the roads clear and things grow a bit quiet, then hear the volume crank up a notch as the neighbors head out for the night and reclaim their local spaces. It is on city nights at the start of a holiday weekend that you realize how small this place really is, nights like this when you feel like it’s entirely your own.

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Today’s Pit Stops

May 18, 2012, Washington, DC: We’ve got a few pit stops to make today and stopping by to applaud Bike to Work Day is only the first. Next up, we’ve got a stop at the Metro station and another at the airport, a hiatus up in the air and a trip out to Long Island. We’ll stop by the rental car counter and set out for a drive on roads we’ve never navigated before arriving for a wedding in a town we’ve never seen.

But first we stop one hundred yards from the front door at one of 58 pit stops throughout DC, Virginia and Maryland set up this morning to help riders navigate Bike to Work Day.

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