Category: Year One: The Original Project
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
June 19, 2012, Washington, DC: In June 2011, I embarked on a year-long project that would bring me back to each of my hometowns to learn more about the places I’d lived. There were many that had shaped me — from Montreal and Toronto to San Francisco and New York — and I wanted to get a good feel for their geography, their people, their neighborhoods and their pulses. I also wanted to examine, broadly speaking, why people live where they do and what makes a place feel like home. With ample vacation days, multiple frequent flyer tickets, many tanks of gas, several bicycles, and a few good pairs of walking shoes, I covered extensive ground in twelve months. The project, Neighborhood Nomad, is documented on this blog, derived from a love of travel and a longstanding obsession with the power of place.
The study came full circle this weekend, ending up where it started on a Virginia vineyard. And so with the advent of summer comes an opportunity to revisit the year I spent traveling back to my former neighborhoods. I’ve come miles from one year ago, and I’ve logged all of them in hopes of better understanding the places we called home.
Read on for a chronological overview of this year’s travels back home…
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
June 16, 2012, Irvington, VA: We are back in Irvington for our first anniversary! We are wine tasting at The Dog and Oyster (now a vineyard with a name!), swimming beneath tall pine trees, revisiting Hope and Glory Inn, taking an evening boat cruise on Carter’s Creek, dining at Trick Dog Cafe, retracing our steps and reliving our memories. This place, like many, is home now. We are thrilled to be back.
“It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?'”
June 15, 2012, Washington, DC: The first entry on this blog is dated June 16, 2011. 365 days ago. In reality, the launch of this year-long project is a little softer than that — the idea had been stewing for months, but was birthed in its current structure just as we kicked off our wedding weekend. The first several entries were scribbled down in a blue plastic notebook bought in a Santorini drugstore on our honeymoon before they went live in the blogosphere.
This weekend, in other words, is a first anniversary celebration in more ways than one.
To mark the milestone, the next few posts will reflect on what’s happened here during the course of the year – beginning with a roundup of ten of my favorite photos that emerged from Neighborhood Nomad: One Year of Travel Through My Many Hometowns. I’ve loved having an excuse this year to lug around my fancy camera, test out new photography apps on the iPhone, and document my surroundings through various lenses. Read more to see a handful of the photos that have made an impression…
June 13, 2012, Washington, DC: There’s a chapter called “Urban Friction” in Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works that focuses on the innovation and great ideas that spring up from the interactions so common in our cities. In it, Talking Heads singer David Byrne describes his bicycle rides around New York City as a means of collecting an urban soundtrack full of sounds that don’t traditionally go together. Lehrer explores how companies can act more like cities by encouraging conversation and the sharing of knowledge. He considers why collaboration across company lines led to the success of Silicon Valley while the promise of a technology boom along Boston’s Rte. 128 died on the vine due in part to nondisclosure agreements and tight lips. A powerhouse in Israel’s tech sector named Yossi Vardi illustrates how more innovation comes from people with many weak ties than from people with fewer stronger ones — whether those weak ties are cultivated during mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Forces or on the sidewalk of a city street. Physicists Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt recount collecting urban data on everything from heightened productivity and walking speed to patent production, concluding, as Lehrer explains, that “the most creative cities are the ones with the most collisions.”
June 12, 2012, Washington, DC: The boathouses of the Potomac River are a throwback to another era. The Potomac Boat Club first opened in 1869, a hub for Olympic caliber rowers, followed by the opening of the green-shingled Washington Canoe Club next door in 1904 — when Teddy Roosevelt was president and the sporting age was in full force. It’s easy to envision these boathouses as grand structures in their day, filled with elite athletes in training by day and visitors reveling in leisure time at night. It’s easy to picture the boathouses of the Potomac with a shiny new coat of paint and some twinkling lights bouncing off the water in the early evening.
June 10, 2012, Washington, DC: These are roads I know like the back of my hand. They are the routes we traveled to swim practice and gymnastics and piano lessons and school. Yesterday morning in North Baltimore, I instinctively took shortcuts down side streets and noticed changes in traffic patterns, piecing together a map of so many mornings from my youth. We spent a lot of time in the car growing up in North Baltimore.
Given that it’s summertime, I retrace the best morning drive of all: the one that led straight to Hampton Pool.
“People would ask me after we had decided to stay, “Well, when are you coming back?” “Well, we’re not. We are living here.” “Oh, but you can’t just—you’ve got to come back to real life.” And I would say, “It’s just as real.” This is very hard for Americans to understand and I think that may be the biggest difference between Americans and people elsewhere. Canadians know that there are places just as real as Canada.”
-Jane Jacobs, on moving from New York to Toronto, from a March 2001 interview by Jim Kunstler for Metropolis Magazine
June 5, 2012, Washington, DC: The late Jane Jacobs is best known in the States for her years as a quintessential New Yorker: Her observations about city living on Greenwich Village’s Hudson Street and her vocal opposition to building a highway on the Lower East Side shaped not only the city itself, but influenced the way we think about major metropolises. But the godmother of urban studies would later make another city her home. In the late 1960s, Jacobs, then in her early 50s, relocated with her family from New York to Toronto, where she was actively involved from the get-go both in the city’s politics and in the more subtle rhythms of its lively streets. Shortly after moving in, Jacobs helped put an stop to the completion of Toronto’s Spadina Expressway, a proposed north-south highway that would chop the city in half, just as she had spoken up against Robert Moses in New York. Various Toronto writers at the time of Jacobs’ death in 2006 reminisced about seeing her out and about on Bloor St. in the Annex neighborhood where she lived near Bathhurst subway station and lingering regularly in her neighborhood bookstore, always vigorously participating in her hometown. Jacobs lived in Toronto for nearly half her life and became a Canadian citizen in 1974.
For those of us who believe in Jacobs’ conviction that strong, active and diverse neighborhoods are the lifeblood of successful cities, the proof is every bit as evident in Toronto as it is in New York.