I expect the youthful Christmas Eves of many readers were much like mine.
Sleep was usually slow in arriving. Even as a six-year-old, I thought it ridiculous for our parents to expect my sister, cousins, and me to take naps so Santa Claus could make a 7pm visit to our grandparents’ house.
And wakefulness often arrived early. I found no harm in a 3am foray to the Christmas tree for a preview of newly arrived stuff.
Even as the birthdays rolled past and Santa Claus receded in the rearview mirror, there was still an adrenaline rush on Christmas Eve that didn’t allow easy sleep. The final hours of Christmas Eve and early hours of Christmas morning became bonus time for special projects, such alphabetizing a baseball card collection or beginning a Hardy Boys book saved for the occasion.
Eventually, adulthood intervened. The fatigue of completing year-end work projects while simultaneously buying and wrapping gifts, sending cards, and preparing holiday meals overcame the adrenaline. Sleep came easily and early on Christmas Eve.
But I still missed the bonus hours that once been mine in the anticipatory hours before Christmas Day.
So I decided to once again give myself a gift of found hours.
When I think over the urbanist reading I’ve down in recent years, the book that most frequently comes to mind is “Walkable City” by Jeff Speck. Regular readers who note how often I cite Speck can hardly be surprised by this. And the subtitle “How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time” might as well be my personal mantra.
As I noted in my review, I find Speck a comfortable, friendly teacher, dispensing wisdom in simple, digestible, but still essential, packets. No book learning experience can be accurately described as Socratic but “Walkable City” comes as close to that ideal as can be imagined.
And Speck is equally personable away from his writing table, as can be read in this interview from when the book was first published. I love the playfulness of using “propinquity” and “frisson” in a single sentence.
I’ve often wished for the time to reread “Walkable City” but other urbanist tomes demanded my attention first, so I deferred my wish. However, I conceived that rereading “Walkable City” would be a fine gift to myself for the found hours of a Christmas Eve.
So my goal became to finish my final Christmas chores, including hosting a Christmas Eve gathering and doing the post-party clean up, and then settling into a rereading of “Walkable City”, using future visions of Christmas Day gift giving and family dinner to keep me alert.
How’d it work? Not well. After more than six decades of life, fatigue can too easily overcome even the most motivated adrenaline. After only 22 pages, sleep overcame me. But they were a great 22 pages.
The relaxed week between today and New Years Eve now looms before me. Perhaps Christmas Eve didn’t work out as well as I had hoped, but I can still give myself a holiday gift of reading. I plan to finish up “Walkable City” before the week is out.
Whether for a first reading or a rereading, I encourage you to also partake of “Walkable City” this holiday season. It might be the best gift you receive. And your advocacy of the ideas espoused by Speck may be the best gift your city can receive.
From my first post-Christmas post as I gear up for the challenges of 2016, I’ll again venture around my neighborhood as I did in my search for missing middle housing, but this time I’ll be looking at the humble bench, the welcome relief it can provide for tired feet, and the chance offered for neighborhood conversation.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)