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Swan Crossing

July 12, 2010

I am a city person. For a long time now, I have called myself a ‘city person’, praising all that is large, urban, busy, eclectic, eccentric, and modern. Growing up, I lived on two continents, in four different countries, and eleven cities – and that’s all just before my eighteenth birthday. After high school, I moved out on my own and effectively navigated six more cities and three more countries to date. Having experienced everything from larger urban spaces housing over a million inhabitants to the smallest of villages – two years in a town of twelve farm houses – I can pretty much say what I like and don’t like about a chosen place of residence. And until recently, I would have told you that a town whose population is only slightly above that of its local college is not it. We have signs announcing swan crossings, for God’s sake.

But who would have thought that many of the things I love about living in a city are to be found in smaller spaces as well if you just look for them. One of the main things I love about being in an urban place is the daily encounter with people. I like seeing others on my way to work or on my way home and feeling like the world around me is alive. In many smaller towns (especially in suburbs) I find that people live in isolated pods – their cars, their homes, their shopping malls – rarely encountering the eccentricities of others the way you do when you’re forced to share a crammed subway train, to sit alongside each other on a park bench, or to sip coffee at a crowded sidewalk cafe. I love the sounds, the noise, the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Needless to say, a swan crossing does not emit the same level of excitement for me.

But I think I’ve been too quick to judge and I’m finding that I can feel a similar sense of liveliness and integration into my daily surroundings when I make certain choices. By choosing to ride my bike, I’m finding that I notice and take pleasure in so many unexpected aspects of my smaller college town and I still get that sense of seeing others around me and being part of a greater (somewhat bustling) whole. I’m noticing others who are choosing to walk and bike or sit outside and people watch and I’m listening to the sounds of nature, students’ chatter, clock tower bells, and the odd car stereo. I’m hearing the sound of skateboard wheels scraping the sidewalk as I pass the always bustling skater park on my way to the public library, and I’m noticing signs and posters announcing outdoor farmers’ markets, local concerts, art festivals, and sporting events as I’m passing these at a much slower speed (slow enough to have plenty of time to read them) on my bicycle.

So I may not be living in the busy metropolis of my dreams but I’m certainly no prisoner to a certain lifestyle I abhor. Ironically, it’s taken hopping on my bike and exploring my town in this more old-fashioned and slow-moving way for me to realize how fast-paced and thriving this place really is.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2010 17:24

    I love the swan crossing! I live in a pretty big city but we still have duck warning signs on the street opposite a nearby park. I love that too.

  2. Jen permalink
    July 12, 2010 19:11

    I moved to NYC from a Midwestern college town 3 years ago. While I’ve always considered myself a city person I find myself missing how *easy* daily tasks were in the small town where I used to live. Living in NYC (or any large city, probably) things are just more difficult than they need to be, IMO. Libraries don’t have book drops. Street parking is a nightmare. Public transportation is overcrowded. Chain stores are often a better bet than locally-owned shops, unfortunately. Grocery stores are tiny and often cramped and dirty. People looking in your bag and demanding to see your receipt is a normal occurrence whether you’re at the library, the grocery store, or Home Depot. Farmers markets (and almost everything else) are overpriced. Trees, lakes, bike paths, are farther away.

    That said, I enjoy living in NYC. I can get any type of food I want if I just hop on a train for a half hour or so (or just walk down the street!). “Ethnic” restaurants are just restaurants now. I can go to the ballet for $12 (cheaper than a movie!) and see a Broadway show for $20 on a weeknight. I can’t ride my bike to work or school anymore, but I can be on the beach in an hour. If I need trees I can find a park and lay in the grass. Things are definitely more difficult here but it’s worth it!

  3. July 13, 2010 14:43

    Interesting post S! WOW – you have led a fascinating life, and have seen so much already in your life!
    I grew up in what is technically or politically nyc, though it was 1 bus ride, 1 subway ride away..NOT A SUBURB by any means.

    I LOVE the city…but when I married, and had children we moved further into suburbia…which was a wonderful place to raise kids. Great schools, parks, 3 miles from the beach etc. Now…though…I would like to return to a more citified environment. However, I think as you have found, and I say this a lot: It is what you chose to focus on. You can find beauty and goodness all around you, if that is what you look for! You can find the benefits of living somewhere if that is what you aim to see.
    I honestly believe this! I am so glad you are finding the treasures you seek on your beautiful bike! And I LOVE THE SWAN CROSSING SIGN!!!
    Totally Cool!

  4. July 14, 2010 03:17

    The only thing I miss about small-town life is the lack of traffic :) Of course, the small town I grew up in was hardly even a town at approx. population 3000! There was absolutely nothing to do and I couldn’t wait to get out! I’ve since lived in places with populations from approx. 100,000 to 5 million, and I much prefer the larger cities even with all their issues.

    I see you have The Year of Magical Thinking in your basket – have you started reading it yet? I really liked it even though found it very sad.

  5. July 14, 2010 07:05

    books swans +bikes = so cool. weather looks like it’s starting to get pretty hot
    ur so cute! :D

  6. July 15, 2010 04:47

    I could have written this post! I much prefer large, dense cities to small towns. I love the diversity of people and exeriences and usually feel closer to being in my own skin in a larger city. I completely agree about the pod-like nature of the suburbs. I feel isolated and less connected to my neighbors and community than when I lived in an urban neighborhood surrounded by people, who though vastly different from one another in terms of income, education and ethnicity, chose to live there because they embraced differences while much valuing their connection with one another. One thing that life on my bike has brought me is greater access to the urban characteristics of where I live. I feel more intimately engaged with where I live on my bike. My bike provides me with a spontaneity in mobility that allows me to actually stop and smell the flowers, pick up a quick bag of good coffee or run into Babbitts and buy those Tevas.

  7. Kristen E Jeffers permalink
    July 15, 2010 22:37

    This is such a great post. I talk to a lot of people about living where I do and I tell them that there is culture, the key is to go outside and walk or bike around, even if nobody else is doing it.


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