Robyn had an interesting post yesterday about the city providing anonymity for those who like to let out their inner nut. It got me thinking. I'm an introvert, too, but I absolutely love city life. The busier the better. We live in an urban neighborhood, but it's not super-dense. Compared to New York, it's like a quaint little town (without the quaint). I love taking the kids to Chinatown here in DC. It's not very "China" but it is a lively, bustling neighborhood. People crowd the streets at all hours of the day because there are lots of apartments, lots of businesses, a Metro stop, and some of the city's best restaurants. Plus, it has the library and the noodle man for the kids and a Starbucks for me.
DC is small enough that, unlike Robyn, it is somewhat possible for me to run into someone I know in our Chinatown. But, usually I don't, and Robyn helped me realize that the reason I love Chinatown is that, surrounded by all those people, I am reasonably alone there. In my neighborhood I feel compelled to be a bit social when I encounter people. In Chinatown there are so many people that no one feels like being social--and it's okay.
Robyn's post also made me wonder something else about urban neighborhood dynamics. When she got caught in a rainstorm twenty blocks from home the streets emptied out except for her. She threw a raincover on her stroller and ran. I wondered--where did everyone else go? Why weren't they all twenty blocks from home? I have no idea what Robyn was doing (maybe she'll tell us) but I would bet that all those other people were on the same block as home, or work, or their friend's work, or a shop they knew well and could take refuge in, or a cafe they liked. I know Robyn's neighborhood well and it is a dense, mixed-use area where many of the residents have lived for generations. I wonder how anonymous it actually is once you've lived there a long time. City neighborhoods can seem big and scary when you are the stranger, but it's amazing how quickly you get to know the other faces out on the street.
That's the way to do cities--find a small area you like and get to really know it. Suburbs are anonymous--everyone hides in their cars and their houses (gross generalization, I know, but I can't link back to the post I wrote on this topic a couple weeks ago). When residents of a city try to make it like a suburb by driving everywhere, demanding space for parking, hiking to the suburbs for convenient one-stop shopping, then city neighborhoods remain anonymous, too. Unfortunately, there are very few cities where this kind of urban ideal exists. I hope that changes.
But, even then, I don't have an inner nut waiting to get out.