Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Holidays, Hot Chocolate, New Haven

I stood waiting for a hot chocolate at the corner downtown Starbucks, listening to the old-timey Christmas music and watching the clusters of pedestrians and bus riders meander by the recently-erected creche. Not seeing any nearby menorahs, I wondered how the city got around the whole church/state issue - but then remembered one of the weird East Coasty quirks about New Haven, that the central grassy square known as the Green is not owned by the city government but rather a group of mysterious life-appointees known as the Proprietors (how snooty!). I guess the Proprietors can toss around whatever religious imagery they feel like.

UPDATE: there is now a menorah on the opposite end of the Green! And a sparkly humanist obelisk.

It's not the most picturesque place to be for Christmastime. If I had marooned myself in New York instead, I might get in some idyllic busy-shopper-Rockefeller-magic-snowflake scenes while wandering about in the Atlantic seaboard half-light. While in Detroit, I benefited from the work of downtown boosters trying to portray a tinsel-covered world-class city (often effectively - Campus Martius skating on a December night is glittery and grand).

But I haven't figured out New Haven. Soon they'll light a giant conifer in the middle of the Green, but until then I've been walking to the bus stop after work along a dusky path, among dog walkers and panhandlers alike. Will Christmas magic find a homesick (and very pregnant) planner in a city that wobbles between charming and forlorn?

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Mitten at Large

I've always considered myself a consummate Michigander, but in the course of life events it happens that I'll be moving to New Haven, Connecticut in June. With that big shift taking place in June and some west coast wanderings taking up much of May, it seems my roots are being carefully extracted - with plenty of soil to keep them intact. Thus the title change - I'll be the Mitten at Large for the next five years, bringing Midwestern carrot topped urban oddity to the Atlantic seaboard.

But my heart is eternally rusty, and I'm sure in due time I'll find myself back in the mitten - again!

Til then I'll be bringing tales of my time in New Haven - a city that from my brief visit appears full of contradiction and collision of worlds. Aggressive drivers, rugged bluffs, pinkish soil, absurdly abundant pizza, hoity toity architecture, fast food Indian, public housing, rapidfire Spanish - it's all new and set against the perfect cherry blossoms of springtime starting up. So, here I go.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Sickly Urbanist

Tiny carbon footprint. Huge facial tissue footprint.


You really get the chance to contemplate your life while sick with a gnarly headcold. Far too much of a chance. If you're like me this takes place on the tissue-strewn couch between a nap and another episode of Wild China (you are very concerned about megafauna right now). You ponder your role in the universe (miniscule), your ability to change troubling world events (nonexistent), and your record of making life better for others (dubious).

Still, in one way you're clearly better for the world today: no drive to work, no using finite oil resources and releasing carbon into the environment. You pat your shoulder, which triggers a bout of coughing. Best to stay in a neutral position.

Urbanists walk and bicycle, and so would you if it were not a snowy windstorm out there. If your body had chosen to rebel on a balmy day in June, you could walk to a park, relax on a bench, and engage in friendly ballet-of-the-sidewalk conversation with passersby. You could walk to the library and continue your brave expedition through the New Books section. You could bicycle to the ice cream shop and, if your budgeting app approves, purchase a cone. You may even compel your spouse to engage in a gentle game of frisbee on that lot whose sign has declared an impending development for years but is functionally a dog park. If it were warm, and if you had a charming porch swing or hammock, you could watch the sun set on it, kleenex box in hand, as the children scramble to get in before the blink of the streetlights.

But alas, people like you get sick in winter, when bicycling is an extreme sport, walking requires an additional penumbra of insulated clothing, parks are vacant and littered with snowdrift detritus, ice cream unthinkable, frisbee laughable, and porch swings both unappetizing and requiring a porch. Oh, and your block is home to maybe two children, who certainly aren't on the schedule of the streetlights that were installed five months ago.

The library, though, that's still on the table. You ponder the extent to which your sick day delayed global warming and pile on your warm outerwear. No viral infection can hold this urbanist back!