Friday, September 18, 2009
Much has been written about the benefits of downtown living: it's fun, it offers great convenience and saves on car travel, and, at high densities, people can pool their resources more effectively. After one month of downtown living, I think that the pundits understate two things. The first is what I will call the "hard factor": noise and concrete everywhere. I live on a pretty busy street that leads to a hospital. The sudden, blaring noises in the middle of the night are quite terrifying for one used to nothing louder or sharper than cicadas. The noises are interesting, penetrating, and a challenge to the suburbanite. The concrete, too, presses on nerves used to soothing presence of grass. Grass, it is true, is overdone in the American suburb, but it is still deliciously gentle to eyes, feet, and hands; concrete, not so much.
The second understated aspect of downtown living is what I'd like to call the "did-I-just-see-that? factor." Walking down the street is series of collisions with the worlds of others, people who are muttering to themselves, hotly debating with their walking partner, or cajoling their dogs. Strangers are comfortably in their own space, though on the sidewalk with me, and therefore slices of their lives are suddenly open for my inspection and, I must say, entertainment. A walk in the suburbs offered little more of interest than which of my neighbors' shrubs was in bloom. A walk downtown is a visit to the circus. A walk in the suburbs was simply a stroll out and back along one or two set routes. A walk downtown has an endless number of destinations and an enormous number of options of how to get there. It is even true that sometimes I am part of the circus. One day, the young ladies of my family were practicing a new dance step, and a man driving past took the time to offer his compliments, which threw them into gales of laughter.
With Main Street at my doorstep, I am primed for an even deeper understanding of what these streets mean in our daily commerce. I also plan to have an office on a commercial street, Central Avenue in Orange. It is not Main Street, but just nearby. The building where I hope to rent boasts a new Daily Soup cafe, and it shares a corner with Rita's Deli and White Castle. So, many observations to come!