Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Urbanist Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve.  Not the day to tackle new or complex subjects.  But Christmas in an urban setting can be a marvelous experience.   I moved away from Seattle near thirty years ago, but one of my favorite Christmas memories remains multi-colored lights reflected in the rain-slicked sidewalk in front of Frederick and Nelson.  (Only Seattle old-timers remember the store.)  And these days I thrill to see the crowded downtowns of the North Bay as Christmas approaches.

To celebrate both the season and downtowns everywhere, today will a series of short thoughts.  Dig as much or as little as your day allows.  And go with my best wishes for happy holidays.

There is an element of Christmas that can work against urbanism.  Some folks insist on having living rooms big enough to host once-a-year Yuletide parties and retaining extra bedrooms for when their children make annual Christmas visits.  That extra home space forces our homes further apart, undermining walkable urbanism.

However, with a little creativity, urban places can provide workarounds.  Early in the history of this blog, I wrote about watching a dignified older couple preparing to host friends, with place cards and fussiness, in a public restaurant.  I didn’t choose to interrupt their preparations so can’t be sure, but I suspect they lived in an apartment that lacked sufficient room to entertain as they once had.  So they used a restaurant instead.  Good for them.

Similarly, temporary modifications can provide entertainment space for homes that may be space-deficient.  Over the past couple of days, I’ve smiled to see a tarp being stretched to provide a party setting a couple of blocks from me in our semi-walkable neighborhood.  As shown in the photo above, the scene was completed with a barbecue deployed on a public sidewalk.

Perhaps some neighbors will be displeased, but I think it’s a great way to maintain a rich and full social life without needing an outsized house.  And I’m pleased that the homeowners got the break they needed from the weather.  I’m not sure I’d trust that tarp in a stormy gale.

Next, the Christmas season, with the resulting interest in family outings, is often when wintertime urban pop-ups began their seasonal appearances.  Temporary skating rinks are only one example.  Urbanful lists a few pop-ups that may be worth visiting, including a restaurant on the ice of a frozen river in Winnipeg.

Moving onward, there are a number of challenges to living a car-free lifestyle in our auto-centric world.  But there are also good strategies for meeting those challenges.  City Lab tackles one of the more vexing problems, how to bring home a Christmas tree while riding a bike.

Finally, the last time that my regular blogging day fell on Christmas Eve, I wrote about “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I noted that Bedford Falls seemed to be a walkable urban place and also a place where the community rallied to support a neighbor in trouble.  Since writing that post, I’ve come across the thoughts of others with a darker perspective.

Their most damning evidence was the subdivision that George Bailey promoted and which seemed to bring him satisfaction.   Because Bailey was able to reach the location of the subdivision on foot during his fevered exploration of Pottersville, it was in a walkable location.  But it had been developed as a drivable place, lacking even sidewalks despite the number of children.

The insights are valid, but on Christmas Eve I prefer to stay with my cheerier, more upbeat perspective.  Bedford Falls is walkable.  Bedford Falls is a thriving, mutually-supportive community.  And therefore walkable places are thriving and mutually supportive.  And I won’t let a Grinch try to undermine my possibly deficient logic.

My next post will fall on Boxing Day, another day on which deep thought is perhaps unwelcome.  So I’ll write about another episode of “The Planners”.  (The chance to watch and to write about “The Planners” is such a joy that it’s like stuffing my own stocking.)

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

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