Thursday, October 20, 2011

All About Density

My beloved Oakland.
I grew up in a small town that was very much a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. As a kid, I would play outdoors for hours on end in my neighborhood until mom would call us in for supper. I had room to roam as a kid and it was great. But as I got older, there were less and less opportunities and experiences that my town offered to a teen. So I yearned to get away- to the city.

So I did. I first went to Chicago, then Austin, then Philadelphia, then Boston, then San Francisco, then Oakland. I have lived my entire adult life in cities. If I were to give my top three reasons for wanting to live in a city it would be (in this order): the diversity, the culture, and the lifestyle. (More on those things later).

Now, I am in a small rural town that is 20 minutes from the county seat, which is a slightly larger town that looks and acts like something out of the Andy Griffith Show (I don't say that mockingly- I always liked that show). I am in a temporary limbo until I move to Columbus, Ohio. (Another city!) I am experiencing, for the first time, rural living, and small town living.

My upbringing was nothing like actual town living- everything in the suburbs is oriented towards going elsewhere to make a living and get your culture- a bedroom community. Here, the small town I live near makes its own culture and has its own businesses. While I am enjoying the slower pace of small town living and the amazing beauty of the landscape (and the farm fresh eggs- yum!), I am bored. While I pine for a slower, less stressful life- I don't know if I am cut out for anything THIS slow.

I have always been involved in many projects and have something to do. I like to organize things and events. And while I am getting involved at the local UU church, the opportunities are less than I am used to. What I crave are those three "city reasons": diversity, culture, and lifestyle. I know that I will be happier in Columbus. And I will be happier to raise my kid there, too.  I now see a small, culturally vibrant city as THE place to raise a child- mainly for those three "city reasons".

One of the sculptures in the town I grew up in,
which shows its early steel worker heritage.
Diversity: I love learning. I want to learn something new every day if I can. Nothing is better than having someone teach you something new. And as someone who has not had the money or opportunity to travel abroad, living in a city is the next best thing. Oakland, my adopted hometown is the most diverse city in the nation, possibly on earth. I loved walking down the street and going about my day and hearing multiple languages, eating foods from places that I have yet to visit, and attending religious services at so many different places. I value diversity, which is so much more than mere "tolerance". I want my son to be a citizen of the world, pledging his allegiance to nature, people, and the planet's non-human inhabitants- not some artificially fly-by-night operation we call a "nation". Living in a city and ultimately traveling with him will help him see the world is so much bigger than his block or even his own head.  My son will know people of all religions, races, ethnicities, sexual and gender orientations, and physical shape and abilities.

Culture: Art and live performance are things that I crave. I used to organize a poetry slam for years, and booked bands at nightclubs. I helped found a collectively-run gallery and performance space still operating today. I founded and ran a performance festival of local artists for several years. I have an appreciation for people who put their heart and soul into their creative work. And I want to be (and have my son also) surrounded by these creative folks- these culture-makers. I want him to realize that he can do anything- he can play any instrument, dance, tightrope walk, eat or walk on fire, or anything he chooses- and there are people out there who like to do things he has only yet dreamed of. He may like those things, too! I want him to learn that there are many ways to shape and change the world- activism, organizing, art, and performance are a few.

Lifestyle: a higher density lifestyle leads to an appreciation for diversity and empathy for others. I do not want my son to live in a closed off way, where we go from our home to our car and back again (never making contact with others). I want him to go to the neighborhood park and play, ride the bus and meet people, ride a bike to the library and discover people and places that he would not see from the backseat of my Honda Civic. I want him to make friends in music (or dance) class and offer our neighbors some of our homesteading bounty. I want him to see we are all connected, which is easier in a city- which is a human's habitat.

Yes, a connection to nature is important too. Which is why we will be camping, hiking, and fishing regularly. But nature is in the city, too.

Stay tuned for part two, where I talk about how this particular part of the world (Appalachian Ohio), while beautiful, is NOT for me. I need a larger city, I'm afraid.

Where do you live, and what do you love and hate about it? Is it good for raising kids? Why or why not?

1 comment:

  1. Yes, and yes again. We live in the 'burbs, but the city is close enough that we can be there regularly. There are things I miss about the place where I grew up (seasons! wide open spaces!), but frankly, even those are accessible if I'm willing to make the drive. And I wouldn't trade the diversity of our city for anything - I absolutely don't want my children growing up where they're one of a handful of kids like them, the way I did.


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