Washington, D.C. - Expensive, but not Taxing: 5. Social
Diversity of Uses + Density of uses and people = Positive Human/Social Experience
I think back to when I was a kid and the weekends I would spend visiting my father on the west side of Detroit. It was at the end of an era - before video games, Facebook, and Twitter would single handedly turn energetic kids in to the equivalent of 50 year old homebodies. I loved going to my Dad’s place not only to see him but also because of the freedom the neighborhood gave me. Soon as we were allowed in the morning, my brother and I, we’d hit the streets. Other kids in the neighborhood would as well and we would all meet on the block to decide what we were going to do today. On some occasions we would ride our bikes to the local schoolyard and would play basketball, each of us trying to show-off for the girls standing watch. Other times we would walk over a few blocks and just chill on the porch at another friend’s house, maybe even play some two square in the middle of the street. Frequently I would get sent on errands to pick up things from the corner store, or the market, or the post office, or to make a neighborly delivery. I would always run into someone I knew on my way. Sometimes it would be a childhood friend of my father’s, sometimes it would be an elderly person my grandmother went to church with. Each time I would get a mini-lecture or some nostalgic story that began with “back in the day." A regular occurrence for us kids would be waiting for the ice cream man. Without fail, his jingle would play causing every kid on the block to frantically scavenge up a dollar and then race to the truck to purchase their treat. We’d sit on my father’s porch happily devouring firecrackers, freeze pops and ice cream sandwiches – talking, laughing, teasing until the street lights came on. On the block, that was the signal it was time to go back to our home stoops, eat supper, go to bed and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
The more I reminisce on those times the more comparisons I make to my time living here in the District of Columbia, a much larger and adult version of my childhood “block” experience. Riding my bicycle to the blacktop down the street has now translated to me riding my bicycle several blocks to work at 8 am. Walking across the street to chill on the porch of a friend’s house has now become a walk to the corner café to sip an espresso on the street front terrace while waiting for friends. Racing outside to meet the ice cream truck has now become a gingerly walk to the local grocery store or supermarket. And just as I would run into people I knew along the way as a kid, the same happens now as I move about D.C.
The argument that I’m attempting to make here is that cities like these, like D.C. don’t tax your social life. Why? As with any city the answer to this question is multi-faceted. But a primary cause is due to the physical composition of the city’s streets and blocks and its mixed building uses. A by-product of dense and diversely planned environments is more people engaging the street. Things are closer, cars move slower, sidewalks are wider and nicer. All these aspects and more assist in providing more opportunities for both planned and serendipitous human interactions. It is commonplace to bump into someone you know while walking the streets and strike up an unexpected conversation. Perhaps on your way to the pharmacy or to the dry cleaners or maybe just taking a leisurely walk. It happens all the time. For example In one week,I ran into an old grad school classmate of mine, I bumped into the husband of one of my co-workers, and met a young lady who I would eventually take out on a date. Outdoor cafés and restaurant dining terraces make the streets come alive and provide an entertaining canvas for street walkers. The sight of people enjoying delicious food and drinks from the pavement is the perfect motivation for interacting with others, meeting new people or just to watch. In the District, these kinds of places are everywhere. Large parks and the smaller neighborhood parks are constantly used by people tanning, reading, kissing, sporting, walking their pets and babies, or just strutting their stuff. Washington D.C., being the global city that it is, adds the benefit of bringing different races and cultures together which makes the social arena even more interesting and lively. It may not be as cosmopolitan as NYC or San Francisco or London, but it represents what America has always been and is becoming even more – and bunch of racial mutts from around the world “trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.”
The essence of community has always been integral to human existence on this planet. Fellowship. It makes us feel loved and valued. It gives us reasons to laugh, cry, smile, and frown. It allows us to live out our individuality while feeling as if we are a part of something bigger. In summary, social interaction makes us feel alive. Cities similar to D.C. support that liveliness by offering its streets and urban landscapes as a public stage for which its citizens are the players. Who know who you might meet: You new best friend; your wife or husband; your next employer; you new band mate; you next roommate. Who knows. "You only live once/ That's the Motto/ Homie YOLO."