Sunday, April 15, 2007

hello, sidewalk

I apologize to both of you for the weekend-long pause; as one of you knows there was a wedding this weekend that took up a great deal of time. It did give me the opportunity to go home, however, and I got to play one of my favorite games: trying to see my hometown as for the first time. This is probably impossible, but having Katy in the car can be very helpful.

At one point I was lost in quasi-suburban Kansas City, and I mentioned that the area looked different than the one I was searching for. Fifteen minutes later, I remarked that I'd finally found the right neighborhood. "This looks more like it," I said. Katy told me she couldn't really tell the difference.

As I was driving home I started to think about what distinguishes one suburb from another. I'm not talking about whether the shopping center has a red tile roof, or the fancy water-jet-cut metal-and-stone welcome sign. I'm talking about the generic streets between subdivisions, the fabric of the area. And this is exactly what makes the difference. Curb cuts, streetlights, medians and retaining walls. Once you start looking for these things they begin to take over, as the secret language of exurbia. It makes me want to see a place where these typologies are liberated, where the curbs fly off into a field, escaping the road, and the streetlights suddenly are only 8 feet high, marching up a lawn and onto the sidewalk. If these things are going to define my hometown, I'd like for them to be a little less subservient.

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