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City vs Suburbia

On our excursions with cousins to the central London over the weekend, we have been talking about the advantages of living in a big city. Now, it should be noted that they live in a small town well north of Los Angeles, while we spent the last seven years before our relocation in the bliss of New Jerseyan suburbia. Furthermore, I always avowedly subscribed to the pleasures of peace and quiet that you can only achieve in the countryside.

But we all agree that dwelling in a big city has its advantages, as many of you undoubtedly know. It can all be summed up in one contraposition: walking vs driving.

In a city, there is the ability to get anywhere you want without having to drive. Coupled with having various amenities literally next door, from restaurants to playgrounds, from grocery shops to theaters, it makes for a much simplified routine in doing practically anything. How about going to the park, then on our way back stopping at our favorite ice-cream joint and also getting some grocery? Easy to do in one leisurely trip. And, likely, a pleasant one at that. In a car-centric case somewhere in suburbs, though, the pleasure would be repeatedly interrupted by either jostling for parking space where there is little of it or crossing immense and immensely unbeautiful places known as parking lots where there is plenty. And you car is likely to attempt to impersonate an oven every time you get inside it.

Accessibility of entertainment venues, be it stadiums, cinemas, museums or local eateries, further makes it for a very different lifestyle. We certainly can hop into a car at any moment and go see a movie or eat at our favorite Chinese place, but with a car, it requires planning and reservations (you don’t want to drive for a few miles and realize that the restaurant is full for some family occasion and your second choice is a few more miles in a totally different direction). So, we only do it for self-declared “special occasions”, as opposed to popping over and checking it out on a quiet stroll from point A to point B.

With a tip of the hat to Brian Greenberg, there is this site that grades the walkability of any address in the US based on its proximity to establishments of the following kinds: grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, movie theaters, schools, parks, libraries, bookstores, fitness centers, drug stores, hardware stores and clothing/music stores. The scale is 1 to 100.

Not surprisingly, our old house in New Jersey scored an abysmal 2. Yep, I guess you could walk to the nearest grocer if you were willing to spend an hour and a half on a single milk run. And everything else was at least another mile further away.

(What is surprising is the fact that some remote rancho in Montana could only score one worse than my house – the scale is clearly not uniform at the lower end).

(What is even more disturbing is that I continue to refer to that place as “my house”).

Conversely, according to Brian, our offices in Rockefeller Plaza scored a 98, not getting the perfect score on account of schools not being in the immediate vicinity, I guess. I suppose any big city central location would score at least 80.

I figure that our current location in England would score quite well, given that we can easily walk to at least one place in most categories. The exceptions are movie theater, bookstore and fitness center. But as I mentioned long ago, there are four hair salons… (Oh, sorry, that does not count!) Still, it lacks the entertainment venues that we find attractive and is suburban enough so that we stay married to the motor vehicle. Oh, well…

Do I think that we would be happier living in Central London? Yes and no. It would certainly be more exciting, for reasons described above. We would certainly not get either as much space or a garden as beautiful as ours. Nor my cherished peace and quiet.

I guess it’s Central Jersey, here we come again, when we move back to America 😀

Just to mix some chronicles into my idle musings, we spent two rather glorious days over the weekend chaperoning our cousins around the city.

On Saturday, the highlights included Changing of the Guard at the Buckingham Palace (my advice – skip it), the palace itself (impressive, but in a I’ve-seen-palaces-quite-as-impressive-before kind of way), a pub lunch (we were in a bit of a rush to make our appointed time for the palace entry, and Natasha’s order of a soup was very late in coming, so she had to gulp it down and let her dissatisfaction be known to all; the soup itself earned very high marks from her nonetheless), a couple of hours at the Kensington Gardens (always a pleasure), and a stop at a sidewalk coffee shop (where we had sort of a soup Nazi for a waitress).

On Sunday, we spent half a day at the Greenwich Park, with a nearby aerial competition providing free entertainment. After a visit to the Royal Observatory (its new annex has some cool interactive exhibits) and a lunch at a Chinese buffet (Kimmy dropped a plate on the floor, Becky bumped into me making me spill hot soup all over my hand – just your regular eating-out-with-kids experience), we split. Kimmy and I went back home, while the rest of the team went back to the central city, where they quite enjoyed a walking Harry Potter tour.

By the way, Becky has passed the HP book on to me, and I am about half done with it myself…