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To keep it short and concise: living in a pedestrian friendly city allowed me to see life happening before me.
A pedestrian friendly city gave me more opportunities to be social, interact with people, and dare I say, even witness how incredibly nice people can be to each other.
Growing up in the US, some of my earliest memories consisted of my mom and I travelling around San Jose on multiple buses, making transfers, as it was our way to get around. Looking back, I think that’s where some of my curiosity and adventurous tendencies came from, my mom, who always took me with her as we navigated the San Jose transportation system. And she still wonders where I get it from ?
I remember seeing all sorts of people on our route, whether it was because it was our usual route, or because we were taking a different route. Regardless, there was always something different, and something new. I remember looking out the window, seeing the buildings pass by, pedestrians at red lights waiting to cross the streets, and seeing restaurants and shops open up for business. The city was alive, and we got to see it as we sat in our seats and waited for our stop.
After moving from San Jose to Illinois, I didn’t get a chance to live in a super pedestrian friendly city. After getting my license as I grew up, having to drive everywhere – long or short distance, paying for gas, paying for tolls, turning on the A.C or the heater in the winter, I found driving a car as second nature to me, and something that was completely normal. I would see people waiting for the bus or see people taking the train to and from the Chicago, and often times even thought why would they opt to use the train? Wouldn’t driving be easier? Haha be easy on me, I was young and naive.
Flash forward to when I moved to Madrid to teach English. I was living in a suburb city 20 minutes outside the city center of Madrid. I had public transportation to rely on, as I didn’t have a car nor did I have the guts to actually drive there haha. In Madrid, and in the suburbs outside of Madrid, people walk and they walk everywhere. I saw people saying hi to each other as they passed different storefronts, or as pedestrians walked by their favorite cafeteria de toda la vida. Kids seemed to be more open to saying hi to people, with or without the presence of their parents to tell them. That was mostly in smaller towns and suburb towns, but even in the city, it wasn’t so different. Sure, people were always in a rush to get from one place to another, but there was still more interaction, and people were still generally nice to help point you in the direction that you needed help.
When I moved to Madrid, I saw just how much pedestrian movement there was in the city. So many buses and so many trains of all sorts – the Metro and Cercanias. It was really cool to see this already being a difference from where I lived back in the US, but most of all with time, I saw how people were. People were more interactive, willing to help, some even disconnected for a bit from their phones to look outside the windows. it was a different commute, and it made me think of my commutes at home. Driving somewhere, maybe with friends in the car, or maybe just me. Me and my thoughts, looking at the road, but not looking elsewhere when I stopped. I realized that driving around by myself meant having to be more isolated from not only people, but what was going on around me. That later on bled into not only driving, but also life in general and my everyday activities. Being attached to my phone and not paying attention to what was going on around me, constantly thinking about what I had to do next rather than paying attention to what was happening before me in the moment, and more. I was not realizing that life was happening.
After living in Madrid and travelling to pedestrian friendly cities, I realized just how much I was missing out and how much I need I need to live in a city like that. One of my favorite pass times was literally wandering and walking. That’s how I would stumble into different parts of the city and that’s when I finally started to see and register what was happening around me. Completely focused on finding my way and looking at new corners.
I guess to sum it all up, living in a pedestrian friendly city allowed me to see the details in every day life. I appreciated the times I saw people be nice to each other, and I would be reminded of when I was younger, and when I would walk around and take public transportation in San Jose. Sometimes things even like infrastructure would come to my mind, and how infrastructure even works and the designs of roads and bridges. It all made me appreciate roads and how we are able to travel through them to multiple places. It even made me realize and be thankful for the times I had my car back home. As much as I love good public transportation for instance (it’s my preferred way to get around a city) I also have to recognize the freedom there is in driving a car and the luxury there is in even having your own car to move around in.
Living in a pedestrian friendly city made me stop for a minute and see life outside my window a little bit slower, even when we weren’t stuck in traffic. It made me stop for a minute and realize how kind people can be, and how much human interaction is needed even if we think we don’t need it.
How about you? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic. Have you experienced living in a pedestrian friendly city? What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂