Keep Your Cool: Thoughts on Summertime in Washington

July 8, 2012, Washington, DC: The neighborhood chugged along slowly during those last heavy days of June and the swelter of early July. Greens wilted at the outdoor market. Thick heat rose off cement streets. A musician played a slow, sad song above the Metro platform in the midday heat. We moved deliberately, careful not to make a single unnecessary move in the onslaught of Washington’s summer.

Not to say the place was uneventful, just intense: In the heat of late June, our neighborhood hosted a slew of reporters who came to witness a monumental health care law deemed constitutional down the street at the Supreme Court. Twenty-four hours later, a foreign storm called a derecho downed trees and crushed cars throughout these city blocks. The hum of satellite trucks dissipated as the buzz of chain saws ascended. We stayed inside, irritable yet grateful to have ice, air and power. Much of the region did not.

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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: Toronto’s Moore Park

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. 
Related Posts on Neighborhood Nomad: 

Neighborhood Nomad: Cecille’s Mid-Century Modern Enclave

This is one in a series featuring the places and spaces people call home. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomad.

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.

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