Craving Energy
June 23, 2014

The New Urbanist places I have visited, although I will argue they are much better than suburban sprawl, often feel very feux-urban. Even in large cities, New Urbanists tend to aim for this small-town feel;

It fails to capture or recreate the excitement and energy of a true urban setting;

..and so do photos. How would you explain the energy of a city? A constant immersion in stimuli?

Perhaps that is why in my previous blog post I talked about how I am nostalgic about my memories of food courts and walking to lunch with my friends? It is not the actual food court itself I miss, but the social and sensory stimuli - the combination of conversations with my friends, of stepping outside and being immersed in the energetic street life, of the exercise and fresh air, and of the actual food. When I said driving to lunch felt like a watered-down experience, it may be because I am only getting two of those four experiences.

This raises an interesting question - would somebody raised in a purely suburban or rural setting, if placed in a high-intensity urban setting, feel the opposite - overwhelmed? I think so - take this photo of a train station for instance;

When I look at that, I am craving the energy in the photo and feel that I want to jump in there and soak in the urban experience - to recharge my batteries after years of suburbia. But, if I showed that to a suburbanite, would they think that is overwhelming and crowded, and thankful they do not live there and never have to experience that?

What about when they see photos of traditional cities?

It will not be long until I would have spent three years living in my suburban town. I have had a lot of good memories and experiences here. When I first came here it was relaxing, but as time went on, the relaxation has transformed into a craving (or nostalgia?) for anything that reminds me of a high-energy place - like that above photo of a crowded train station, and sometimes I think I am going crazy because that craving just gets more intense. If it were not for me experiencing suburban life, I do not think I would have started this blog or crossed paths with Strong Towns. I am really grateful for all of that, and it is comforting to think that perhaps my destiny was to put my needs aside - to take one for the team - because I am performing a greater good trying to help people here through my blog. (Then again, will not my blog be just as effective no matter where I live?)

Too much suburbia makes a person crazy. I think it is time for a vacation away from it.


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Nicolas Derome • 08.09.2014 • 15:18 PM (MDT)
Philadelphia has lots of narrow streets, although the very narrow ones are mostly residential. The streets that have retail are also narrower than in most cities in North America, typically 1 lane 1 way, parking on each side and sidewalks (in almost every NA city it's at least 2 lanes of traffic + 2 lanes of parking for streets with retail, but those kinds of streets are rare in Philadelphia). What's true of Philadelphia is also true to a lesser degree of Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Montreal's Old Port is relatively traditional city-like too. And then there's a couple small towns like Baie St Paul which have narrow main streets, though not traditional city narrow. Also some in the Appalachians with taller buildings so they feel more enclosed, like Welch, WV, Logan, WV. Some towns in the mountains/hills can have narrow residential streets winding up the slopes too, like Trail, BC. Mostly though, it's Quebec City, and to a lesser extent Boston's North End, New Orleans' French Quarter and Montreal's Old Port. And of course several cities in Central America, the Caribbean, and overseas.
Fraser • 08.05.2014 • 00:56 AM (MDT)
In New Zealand, the Auckland CBD is fairly walkable and interesting (but everywhere outside of it is car-dependent). Wellington is a lot nicer; it has a lot of the charm of the Melbourne CBD without the suburban sprawl. Most other New Zealand cities are either very small, or sprawling.
Andrew Price • 07.02.2014 • 17:08 PM (MDT)
Douglas - traditional city-like destinations are far and few between in the United States. The best I can think of are places like Beacon Hill in Boston, parts of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The closest small town with a traditional village feel and layout would probably be Provincetown, MA. Occasionally, I'll find a place that feels like a traditional city, but it'll only be for an isolated street or two. In Australia, the closest to the traditional city experience would be Melbourne's City Centre - many great narrow streets and laneways to explore. Sydney has some nice old neighborhoods, but it's still only the odd street scattered around.
Douglas • 07.02.2014 • 16:51 PM (MDT)
Wherever you go on vacation, takes pictures and do a blog post about it. Do you have any recommendations of traditional city destinations in North America, Australia, or New Zealand? I'm sure they are rare enough that it would be a short list. The only one I can think of in North America is Quebec City. The best the others can muster is New Urbanism - or as Nathan Lewis would call them, 19th century hypertrophism.