We Live In A City For A Reason; Go Bump Into Someone New
I mostly work at home. Configuring 1’s and 0’s dominates my work-days. I’m on the computer reading, image editing, contacting clients or other outreach–is there anybody out there? Sometimes it’s isolating, but that’s also why I live in a city. People are close at hand.
Accept it or not, Traverse City is the region’s urban core. Yet, as a city, it needs developing in terms of its public spaces, services and, ultimately, its culture to really own this distinction. Don’t get me wrong, Traverse City is a comfortable place to live; better than most. I don’t say that enough and don’t say it more, in part, because so many other people play the role of cheerleader. I’ve also been to and lived in many other places and it’s difficult not to see where we are deficient. One of those deficiencies is the cultural acceptance that we are an urban setting, however small it seems.
Living in the City, Thinking It’s the Countryside
I’m consistently surprised by residents who take great pains to shut themselves off from the rest of the community. There are the obvious signals noticeable when someone protests a new sidewalk in front of their homes, but it’s also noticeable by comparing people’s front yards and porches. Are they used or manicured? Or, is curbside appeal simply left for forgotten? In some places in the city, typically in front of a hostile street, the owners have given up completely by construction of a wall; the neighborhood accessed via the garage and through the windshield.
I’m lucky. I moved on to a block where most days I can simply step out the front door and at-the-least wave to the neighbor across the street who is simultaneously stepping outside with a mug of coffee of her own. You don’t get that living on 10-acres in Leelanau county. In a city, the front porch is where public interaction begins.
Interacting with neighbors is one benefit of city life. Typically, that involves people we have previously met, although not always (I still meet ‘new’ neighbors after living here for 4 years). Another aspect is the spontaneous, often serendipitous, meeting of someone new; the strangers. Traverse City doesn’t do this well. Most of us are in a routine of planned, predictable activities. Meeting someone new is left to an introduction by someone we do know.
There are ways to alter this tendency. Some solutions are institutional and we talk about them almost everyday on MyWHaT; vibrant public space is a wonderful impetus for interaction. There are things we, as the 14,000 urban residents and 50-80,000 daily visitors to city can do to increase spontaneous & serendipitous encounters. Here are five:
- Routine Shift: Have a favorite watering hole? Always go on Tuesday? Shift your day and shift your time. You’ll be surprised who you don’t recognize.
- Ride BATA: I seldom ride public transit, but when I do I always learn something about someone I didn’t know.
- Take a Moment: We have some great public spaces in the city. Have a meeting downtown? Take a moment to sit on a park bench and reflect. Read a book; someone may want to talk to you about it. You may not end up talking to anyone, but observing people in public is another means of knowing.
- Eat Lunch Alone: Counter intuitive, but you never know who will walk-in. Join them.
- Play Games: The art of getting together with a friend to play a game like chess is turning more and more to the internet, but why not splurge and play in public. If you see people playing a game, go watch. Ask to join. Invite someone, you might learn something.
I started the day with a post quoting urban planning guru Jan Gehl comparing a good city to a good party. This following quote of his addresses the issue further:
In a Society becoming steadily more privatized with private homes, cars, computers, offices and shopping centers, the public component of our lives is disappearing. It is more and more important to make the cities inviting, so we can meet our fellow citizens face to face and experience directly through our senses. Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life.” (Project for Public Spaces)
There are plenty of other activities that increase our chances of meeting someone new. What other activities are your favorites?