October 21, 2012, New York: I love mornings in New York, especially after arriving here at night and in traffic. In the early morning, Manhattan’s streets are again breathable and streams of sunlight barrel between buildings onto this city island. Runners dodge down near empty avenues while there’s still room. Night owls in pajamas slowly walk their dogs.
I’ve never been much of a night owl, but there was no choice but to become one as a college student here in New York. I’m glad that’s no longer required of me and I can again relish my role as a morning person in the city that never sleeps. It’s the best time to look at New York’s architecture all lit up from the east and see its buildings reflected in puddles before the images are eclipsed by shoes and taxicabs.
Morning in New York is also the time of day when I imagine this city, and other cities, without congestion and cars. I’m not sure when my tolerance for traffic plummeted so dramatically, but my daydreams for cities of the future increasingly involve pedestrians and cyclists regaining control of the streets. It has something to do with sanity, health and well-being: No matter where we live, we are hopeful that the spaces we inhabit will lift our spirits and bring out the best in us rather than grate on our nerves and evoke gridlock.
Others are also considering how more breathable streets might play a part. A recent article from The Atlantic Cities features filmmaker Ross Chings’ efforts to edit traffic and congestion out of time lapse imagery of San Francisco for a piece called Empty America. It’s pretty wild to see the city that way, and although the article’s headline reads, ‘San Francisco Sure Looks Creepy Without Any People In It,’ I think the city looks starkly beautiful without traffic. My inclination, not surprisingly, is to add the people right back in to the scenery, hiking up the middle of Lombard St. and pedaling across the wide lanes of the Golden Gate Bridge without a car in sight.
I edit New York this way, too. On a quiet morning before the city fills, a dense yet breathable city feels like a distinct possibility.
Are there certain times of day when you most enjoy the place you call home? Is breathing room important to you? What would improve your well-being and quality of life in your hometown?
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