Am I crazy to actually like big highway rest stops?
Maryland’s newest one is scheduled to open along I-95 next week, following a complete reconstruction. And somehow, despite the fact that it’s merely a collection of fast food, dirty restrooms, and convenience marts, I think there will be just a touch of romance to the place.
The newly rebuilt Maryland House rest stop. Photo by MDTA.
Something about all waystations appeals to me. I know they’re mundane and often uncomfortable places, but all of them, from airports to train depots to I-95 travel plazas, somehow tickle my sense of fantasy.
I think it’s because waystations are the gathering places of travel, where humanity comes together and rests before setting off on adventure. Rest stops may not be exotic themselves, but they’re where exotic stories begin. Somehow, with hundreds of traveling partners bustling around me, being in a waystation makes travel feel like a quest.
Or maybe I’ve just got an overactive imagination. Does anyone else feel this way?
If you’re a responsible adult, you’ve already finished all your holiday shopping. If you’re like me, you’ve still got some to do. So here are some gift ideas for the urbanists in your life, all from brick-and-mortar stores in DC that you can visit today or tomorrow.
Fare card trivet, the Bible of urbanism, DC earrings, and SimCity computer game.
Get a book
You can’t go wrong with books, and most large bookstores have a shelf or two dedicated to architecture & city planning. The four urbanist books I always recommend are:
The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. By far the most accessible description of how suburbia happened, why it seemed to make sense at the time, and why it ultimately proved a disaster.
Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. Like Death and Life, but more contemporary, and beautifully illustrated with simple maps & diagrams that help make the point.
Walkable City by Jeff Speck. Speck is a DC resident, a GGW contributor, and one of the best urbanist writers today. He collaborated on Suburban Nation, and then with Walkable City presented the hard data that backs up his claims.
Everything they say is true. Hosting the Olympics in DC would be expensive, and a huge hassle, and probably wouldn’t result in much lasting benefit to the city, specifically.
But all the hate still breaks my heart. It’s the civic equivalent of when a school board cuts art & music programs and redirects their funding to standardized mathematics testing. On paper it’s the right decision, but it’s wrong if you want your students to grow up with anything to dream about using math to create.
Art, music, and Olympics are all luxuries, it’s true. But they’re luxuries that are good for the soul. They’re luxuries that make our civilization more than the sum of its parts. They’re things worth doing if we value love.
I love the Olympics, and notably, so do many of the haters, who are happy to watch them on TV when they’re hosted in someone else’s backyard. Don’t we have a term for that?
Things people say that mean “I’m from the suburbs”
Nice and clean and empty. Photo from pasa47 on flickr.
Every once in a while someone tells me they like a particular city because it’s “very clean.” When that happens, what I really hear that person saying is “I judge cities by suburban standards.”
Cities are inherently messy places, and the best ones, with the most vitality, are often the messiest. If a city is too clean then it’s just an office park.
Of course, vitality means messy in the sense of being busy, which is different than messy in the sense of being dirty. But how bad do litter and grime have to become before they overwhelm one’s enjoyment of a place? Worse than in most cities, I think. Litter stinks, but a newspaper on the floor doesn’t make me want to leave the Smithsonian.
So when someone talks a lot about the cleanliness of a city, it leads me to assume they don’t spend much time in cities. That’s OK, of course. Not everyone can, nor should, nor needs to. But this is a blog about cities, and how people perceive them matters.
And being the Judgy McJudgerson urban elitist I am, that’s not the only common phrase that elicits the same reaction. Here are some more:
“Where do you park?”
“Traffic must be awful.”
“Do you know about froyo?”
“Traffic circles are so annoying!”
“It’s a big city with a small town character.”
“I can’t believe there’s no Walmart there.”
Got any others?
PS: In defense of those who think their strip mall’s froyo shop is unique, I suspect suburbanites think my views on lawn care are dubious at best.
One of the great advantages of living in a city is that you frequently stumble upon fun and interesting things. On Sunday evening my wife and I were taking a walk, which brought us randomly to Freedom Plaza. Someone there had set up music and speakers, and couples were dancing. It was just lovely. I snapped this picture with my cellphone:
Today BeyondDC steps outside its usual urbanist role to help raise awareness of a big problem: Congress is considering breaking the internet with a set of radical new laws that would give private corporations nearly unlimited power to accuse anyone of copyright infringement, and to then effectively shut down that person’s website. The effect of such far-reaching and broad regulations would be catastrophic to the free exchange of ideas on the internet as it exists today.
Several of the internet’s largest sites are participating in a “blackout” today, shutting down their main content in protest of a law that could shut them down for real if passed. BeyondDC may not be Wikipedia or Reddit, but everyone needs to know about these proposed bills. We cannot let them pass without a fight.
Here is more information if you are interested. Below are some screencaps of major webpages taking part in today’s blackout.
Yesterday, Osama bin Laden was killed. Last night, crowds gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House. If ever there were an example of the virtues of civic space in cities, this was it. Pictures below.