Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Living in Portugal versus Living in the U.S.

Many posts in this blog are co-published in Petaluma Patch.  A recent post on that site sparked a number of comments, including a pair of recommendations for “Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander.  I’ve long been aware of the book, although I haven’t yet read it.

The favorable comments caused me to move the book upwards in my to-be-read queue.  It also caused me to use the internet to refresh myself about the book.  In doing so, I found a marvelous review of it in a back corner of  The writer uses the book as a basis to compare living in Portugal to living in the U.S.  I wish I could provide the writer’s name, but he identifies himself only as “P”.   (I’ve touched up the punctuation slightly, but left the words exactly as written.)

“This book describes perfectly how good I feel using my home and public spaces back home in Portugal. Living in your home and going out to buildings and public spaces simply works.  It's as intuitive as wiggling your toes.

“But here in USA, I feel very stressed.  Simply being somewhere feels so WRONG.  Most homes don't have little corners I can hide in.  For example, if I go to a party, there is no place to retreat with a friend for a private conversation, other than the bathroom, or where it's cold outside.  To be in the party, you are in the middle of the activity at all times.  So I hate spending holidays with family, because you must be stuck together the whole time.  The roads are made for cars, not for people, it's very stressful to go for a walk.  How often do you walk to the grocery store and "just meet a friend" in the way?  (Without planning to meet ahead of time.)

“Back home I can walk to the grocery store, and more often than not, a friend happens to be going out and about, doing chores.  We say hello, and how about a cup of coffee together?  On our way to the coffee shop, we walk through the park and spot some other friends.  We don't have to go out of our way to go to the park, like USA.   It's very spontaneous.  Very refreshing.

“Here in USA, when I walk somewhere, I WALK somewhere.  I go where I have to go, then I walk back home.  That's it.  It's boring.  And even though there are parks, they are not used except as places for dogs to poop.

“I can't explain to you how different it feels.  This book describes it, and I can assure you, having been in both places, it's true.”

I won’t suggest that new urbanist construction in the U.S. will create the same street ambiance as in Portugal.  I’m sure that the cultures of the two countries also contribute significantly to the differences that the writer describes.  Furthermore, the cultures of the two countries also likely contribute to the U.S. being a strong world economy and Portugal being one of the weak links in the European Community.  Nonetheless, the picture that the writer presents of life in Portugal is appealing.  (My wife and I have been planning a trip to Portugal for later this year.  Now, I’m looking forward to the Portuguese villages with even more anticipation.)

My wife and I are Petaluma residents.  From our experience, Petaluma can offer hints of how “P” portrays Portuguese life, but without the deep connections that “P” describes.

As a dog walker, I’ve had the opportunity to check the street ambiance in different neighborhoods.  When we first moved to Petaluma, we lived on the east side, near the edge of town.  Physically, it was a great neighborhood for walking.  Our lab/Akita Rufus and I had some good long walks.  But we rarely encountered anyone during our walks.   And most of the folks we saw were strangers with whom we exchanged casual nods without stopping.

Our current home is on the westside.  Physically, except for distressed segments of sidewalk, it’s another fine neighborhood for walking.   When I walk the four current pooches, I often see neighbors whom I’ve met on previous walks.  We’ll usually stop to discuss neighborhood news, the weather, or another current topic.  Even when we see a stranger, we’re likely to stop, to introduce ourselves, and to share news.  We don’t go for coffee because there is no convenient coffee place, but it’s a pleasant interaction.  Perhaps not Portugal, but better than casual, noncommittal nods.

I have a couple of administrative matters to share.  First, a few of us with an interest in urban planning have scheduled a get-together at Aqus Café in Petaluma for Thursday at 4pm.  It's a group that has been brought together by the blog.   I'm not sure in what direction the conversation will go, but I expect to enjoy the interaction.  Feel free to attend.
Also, there will be a change at “Where Do We Go from Here?”  My partner in starting this endeavor, Tony Battaglia of Archumana, has decided that he needs to put more effort into other areas of his practice, so has withdrawn from the blog.  In the near term, I’ll pick up the Wednesday posts that Tony would have covered, so “Where Do We Go from Here?” will continue to have three new posts each week.  However, I remain hopeful of finding new partner(s) to share the load.  I fervently hope not to be personally writing three posts a week a year from now.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

No comments:

Post a Comment