“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…
“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.
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.
“I could feel history and geography transforming me, and I fell stupidly in love with travel.”
-Brad Newsham, from ‘Take Me With You: A Round-The-World Journey to Invite a Stranger Home’
April 26, 2012, Washington, DC: I bought one more plane ticket last night. It’s for the final trip I’ll be making for the purposes of this project back to one of my former hometowns. I haven’t been back to Toronto since I moved away in 1982 and I can’t wait to check it out.