09 September, 2008

Goin Up to the City...

I've moved from the 180-year-old quiet old house in the country to Halifax, a city that seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, swallowing what woods remain around the edges to feed big industrial parks with ever more monstrous stores and parking lots. Last Sunday I visited a stationery store called Staples, which might have been about half the size of my old neighborhood in Japan. And that store stood shoulder to shoulder with a great number of stores of a similar size. The parking lots were as big as the stores. When I lived in the same neighborhood about 20 years ago the area was all woods.

Now I'm staying with my daughter in a residential area away from the downtown, but because main arteries to the city run near-by I can hear the constant roar of traffic through the open window of my room. Thankfully there are some mature trees around to help balance the pollution. Apparently a twenty-year neighborhood covenant protected them until just recently. Most of the trees are large enough now that people value them and because there are mostly single-family homes around here probably they are safe for the immediate future. At least I hope so.

Walking in this neighbrhood is a challenge and not only because it's built on a rather big hill. If you wait until after 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning the volume of traffic makes the air noxious. And who is on the street breathing that air? Just like in Japan, it's school children. And workers waiting for the buses, walkers, and bicycle riders trying to help the environment and being punished for it with lung-fulls of car exhaust. And the very loud roar of traffic.

There are no bike paths in most parts of this city. There is no restriction on taking cars into the city center. There seems to be no over-all plan for reducing pollution, or none that I'm aware of. There doesn't seem to be any awareness of the problems of noise. People complain about the cost of gas, yet there are many cars with only one or two people riding in them.

From my perspective this city and thousands others like it are my worst nightmare. I wish for a few things: cars that don't pollute and make so much noise. Room for bicycles and people to walk. Neighborhhoods where people, not cars, predominate. A return to the best things about the last century; families that can slow down and spend more time outdoors, with each other and neighbors, where smiles balance all the stressed-out looks.

Why is it exactly that we in North America have decided to spend our lives working, working, working so that we can jump in the car and go spend the rest of our precious time in mammoth shopping complexes that offer things we don't really need? That we are so tired at night that we spend evenings watching families on reality shows to get a sense of connection, rather than with real people? Something is wrong here and hopefully soon more of us will realize it. I don't have too many answers but I have one thing to say to you young people and families of any age.

Expect a better life. And then go find it, while you still have the time.

12 comments:

  1. Kia ora VJ,
    Oh my friend I so understand! Most western culture places are as you describe, including New Zealand. Most have no awareness of the bounty of Nature here, and of the corporations wanting to destroy it to "sustain" this way of life. Please stop and visit, I am in the fight of my life and I need support from all over the world. I am finding my voice to speak for the mountains which speak to me. Kia ora VJ.
    Rangimarie,
    Robb

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  2. Robb:

    I've left a comment on your blog and signed the petition. I'd like to do a short article and pointer to the petition. I wonder if you have a beautiful picture of the mountain skyline that you could lend me (allow me to use) for this purpose?

    The mountains must be saved!

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  3. Kia ora VJ,
    Appreciate so much your support! I will email you a few photos this evening when I get my computer back, which has crashed with all my photos! Have a lovely day.
    Aroha,
    Robb

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  4. Indeed! Although I might complain of some of the frustrations of living in a "rural" area (it's actually a city, but 1 mile away from my suburban home are cornfields), I am relishing the quality of life here. I have a under 4 mile commute to work, my work hours are not unreasonable, I get a real lunch HOUR(!), the gym is a 2-minute walk from my office, I bought organic tomatoes from a colleague today whose office was swarming in them from his farm...and the list goes in. This is the kind of life I wanted! Not much money, but the *important* things instead!

    Keep looking and you will find it!

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  5. cha-chan:

    Sounds absolutely lovely. I'm so glad you have found such a nice life!

    I'm not so sure I will, but I haven't quite given up yet. :)

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  6. Hi VegJ,
    I was just hanging out at my blog and I realized I missed you and hadn't checked in for a while!
    I understand what you mean about your community- here in Northern California, the heart of Silicon Valley, I'm often struck with how distance there is between people and how we're all obsessed with hopping in our cars to get somewhere rather than walking, biking, or stopping on the way home from the train station. I have a bike that I LOVE but never ride because I live on a third floor of an apartment complex that doesn't allow us to store bikes on the main level... and it's seriously perilous to drag it down the stairs. Then even if I were to get it on the road, I'd be on a really unappealing street with lots of cars fighting for space.... things just are on the wrong scale here. And I despise American parking lots. It's funny. Where we lived in Japan nature was always too far away, but I felt more connected to it than I do here. Is that strange?

    Sigh.

    -Sea

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  7. Hi super-seamaiden:

    Not strange at all, because the Japanese appreciate nature in a way that most of us don't over here. Some of it I think is the persistence of Shinto traditions( and zen aesthetics) and festivals, which are all founded on nature, and some of it may be because Japan has lost so much of its natural land. I guess in a way, each little garden, each postage-stamp park, and each mountain has become the only way to keep in touch with it. If we want a bad example to follow of ugly development swallowing up almost all of the green spaces we don't have to look much farther than Japan.

    But there's no use congratulating ourselves on our green spaces in North America because we are still swallowing up spaces at a huge rate. Apparently, according to "The 100-mile Diet", which I've just finished, we have lost 50 per cent more farm land than 30 years ago.

    We need people to stand up and say: we don't need more apartment buildings, department stores and parking lots. We need to save the green spaces for everyone. And we need people on city councils that will stand for that, not only business people willing to sell their grandmother's farm for a new shopping plaza.

    And about the biking, what a pity that the air quality and busy roads have made those people willing and able to help the environment and enjoy the outdoors unable to do so!

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  8. Dear Vegetable J, I found your blog a while back and was intrigued because I lived in Japan a few years and liked your take on the food. I linked to it from our blog www.sameerandlisa.com. Now after a year I check back and see you're living in NS, where I'm from! What a bizarre coincidence. I moved to Florida from Japan and I have longed for the days when I lived near Dal/SMU and could walk or bike anywhere around the town. I remember a culture of friends happily dropping by unannounced, sunny days in the public gardens or waterfront and relying on buses or my feet to get around resulting in a great way to stay fit and see the city more relaxed. I've been so distressed by the culture and environment here in our Florida neighborhood where people who live 3 metres away don't even greet each other and you have to get in your car to get anywhere, even to take a walk! But it sounds like Halifax suburbs are just like this. Too bad! I totally agree that everyone would be much happier without all the "distance" we create... Anyway, thanks for the insights.

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  9. Hi Lisa:

    Incredible coincidences. I took a good look at your blog, even at your writing resume, which I have to say is impressive. Wish I could afford your services; I have a feeling that you could help me get a bit more traffic to my blog. :)

    I hate to tell you that I'm not in the suburbs but in Clayton Park near the Bedford highway. Not an easy place to get to and from, even by bus. I have just got my bike here now, though, so I'm going to try it this week. We'll see.

    Halifax seems to be growing at a great rate and already I see signs of it losing that small town charm that you were talking about, though I believe that the area around Dal is still pretty good for walking and biking, once you get into the area immediately around the campus.

    Frankly, though, I think it's not the city that's the problem but the traffic. There are only a few main streets here into the downtown and they're constantly clogged. I hear rumours of a shuttle bus system for downtown, which should help, especially if they restrict cars in the core of the city and make a group of outlying parking lots.

    But I think it will be years until we see any bike lanes/paths, if ever. Now I see many people riding very slowly on the sidewalks.

    By the way, cngratulations on almost being a new mom. Your wedding in India was lovely (I looked at the picture album) and you made a very beautiful bride. Bet the food was incredible!

    :)

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  10. PS Ask and ye shall receive! I got the DH to fix some bugs on the site and... the archive is one of them! Yay! So glad you poked at me about it. We've needed a proper one for a long time.

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  11. Thanks. SS. It will make it a lot easier to look up things. :)

    I'll be waiting to hear if you have anything about your trip to Japan. Lucky you to have the chance to eat some fresh Japanese food, though I know it's pretty hard to find safe GF stuff there. I'm craving those sweet fresh mikans at the moment. The oranges here are all blah.

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