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.