Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On being urban

Around 1950 or so, a real estate developer in Delaware decided it would be a good idea to build exactly one street's worth of suburban tract housing amid the corn fields ten miles south of New Castle. Twenty houses strung along two thousand feet of road, surrounded by corn fields. In 1962 my parents bought one of those houses a few weeks before my birth, and that house was where I grew up. If you wanted to go anywhere -- the post office, a supermarket, a restaurant, a movie theater -- you got into a car and drove there.

I got my first taste of urban living in the late 1970s. For two weeks, every August, my parents rented a small house in Cape May, New Jersey, about half a block from the beach. It was a revelation. If I wanted to go to the store and buy a pack of Wacky Packages cards, I could walk there. If I wanted to go to Frank's Playland to play some skee ball, or to the mini-golf course, or to the book store, I could walk there. The end of the vacation was always a let-down, not just because I could no longer go to the beach whenever I wanted, but because I was back in the middle of the corn fields, and there was nothing within walking distance but corn.

In February 1997 I moved into my girlfriend's house in Newport, Rhode Island, and it was like being on vacation all the time. I can walk to the book store, or the convenience store, or the post office, or the library, or pretty much anywhere I want to go. After getting a job at a local hotel, I could even walk to work, and whenever the weather permits, I do. My car is now a luxury rather than a necessity. Weeks pass between trips to the gas station.

The corn fields surrounding my parents' house has long since been converted to suburban tract housing, but you still need a car to get anywhere. When I go back to visit, I have to re-accustom myself to driving everywhere, and I don't like it.

If anyone want me to go back to living in the country, they're going to have to drag me back.

2 comments:

voncookie said...

Ha! I grew up probably not 20 miles from you in the wilds of South Jersey. We, too, would vacation in Cape May. I now live in an urban area where, instead of having to drive the 3 miles into "town" -- which was a collection of about 2000 souls -- and at least 1/2hr to civilization as we know it -- I have two coffee houses within 4 blocks of me, as well as every possible amenity I need. Is nice.

Oh, and BTW, those cornfields are probably now covered over with big Box Stores and strip malls, as is wont in that area. I'm sure you could now walk to them... but why would you want to?

Summeranne said...

I would LOVE to be able to walk or ride my bike to work! Sounds amazing!