March 28, 2017 (Tuesday)

by Yule Heibel on March 27, 2018

Where do you want to live?

This question dogs me, unanswered. I might have an easier time describing an abstracted landscape simply by adumbrating my comfort in it through an enumeration of who should be in it. W., I want to live with W., but I’m not sure where. My kids, their families (when they build them) – at least within some kind of manageable distance. But where?

Now, if I continue to expand the numbers, the number of people, I realize a couple of things (I think). Picture a lovely waterfront house with not much other than trees around it, but with W. in it and our kids and their families nearby, and very quickly the “dream” – the envisioned thing – becomes for me the stuff of nightmares. If, on the other hand, I picture a town, a city, and imagine a relatively functional and commodious apartment with W. and me in it, and our kids and their families relatively nearby (not separated by six time zones as they currently are), my anxiety dissipates. Clearly, I need to be somewhere that affords interaction and opportunity. …The ability not just to have those fixed stars which guide my reasoning (family), but also a tide of changing flotsam and jetsam washing in and out of my life on a regular (and therefore somewhat predictable) basis. …The rubbing up against people, the ability to dip into that tide as well as to retreat to quieter, more reflective pools when necessary. Where do you want to live? Who do you want in your life, the one you’re living god knows where? And what are you going to do to get there in the rather limited time remaining?

Yesterday I reviewed that five-year-plan I wrote earlier, and realized I can’t possibly live in Montreal (where I had tentatively “placed” myself for want of a better idea). It panicked me – both the realization (that M. is out) as well as the possibility, the thought, of living there. My gut was telling me, “No!” And when I looked on Google Maps’ street view at potential neighborhoods, I just wanted to run screaming from the room. Definitely not the kind of built form I’m hankering after…

Then I looked at street views of Ch. – and, god, No. Next, stupidly expensive (too expensive for us) Back Bay: Very congested and “small,” somehow – tight and angry, the only bright spot being Louisburg Square, which is too expensive by a moonshot. Then, Georgetown, DC (also too expensive, but w/e; this is window-shopping): now that, surprisingly, looks better, and I think it must be the street layouts. Boston’s look mean and cramped, like people huddling together for protection even though they simultaneously also all hate one another. (Which is why they get nothing done.) On the other hand, Georgetown (a much less harsh climate) looks like it was at least laid out with respite in mind. Here, in New England, too many of our old city /urban form areas, built and laid out with no thought to communal respite (except going to church) or graciousness, became unloved and were abandoned when people moved “on” (i.e., out) to suburban areas, leaving the cramped bits vulnerable, perhaps especially to assault by automobile. Not nearly enough is done for the pedestrian (or cyclist), starting and returning ever more to the shitty condition of unshoveled, iced-over sidewalks (but cleared roads, of course …cars rule!). And in the summer, when tourists throng the historic streets, all are reminded that cars matter more as pedestrians try to navigate along meanly-proportioned, too-narrow sidewalks. These are my beefs. This is why I could never commit, all out, to staking a claim in Boston or Cambridge (which suffers from the same set of problems).

I’m not the only one who has noticed this. See the famous New York Grid vs Boston Spaghetti Pile Streets meme: “New York: Because we want you to know where you are and how to get where you’re going” vs “Boston: Because Fuck You.”

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