Home > Uncategorized > We Live In A City For A Reason; Go Bump Into Someone New

We Live In A City For A Reason; Go Bump Into Someone New

Monday Crank

I mostly work at home. Configuring 1’s and 0’s dominates my work-days. I’m on the computer reading, image editing, contacting clients or other outreach–is there anybody out there? Sometimes it’s isolating, but that’s also why I live in a city. People are close at hand.

Accept it or not, Traverse City is the region’s urban core. Yet, as a city, it needs developing in terms of its public spaces, services and, ultimately, its culture to really own this distinction. Don’t get me wrong, Traverse City is a comfortable place to live; better than most. I don’t say that enough and don’t say it more, in part, because so many other people play the role of cheerleader. I’ve also been to and lived in many other places and it’s difficult not to see where we are deficient. One of those deficiencies is the cultural acceptance that we are an urban setting, however small it seems.

Living in the City, Thinking It’s the Countryside

I’m consistently surprised by residents who take great pains to shut themselves off from the rest of the community. There are the obvious signals noticeable when someone protests a new sidewalk in front of their homes, but it’s also noticeable by comparing people’s front yards and porches. Are they used or manicured? Or, is curbside appeal simply left for forgotten? In some places in the city, typically in front of a hostile street, the owners have given up completely by construction of a wall; the neighborhood accessed via the garage and through the windshield.

I’m lucky. I moved on to a block where most days I can simply step out the front door and at-the-least wave to the neighbor across the street who is simultaneously stepping outside with a mug of coffee of her own. You don’t get that living on 10-acres in Leelanau county. In a city, the front porch is where public interaction begins.

Reading in public? You never know. Our city benches need placement work though, this is at Cass & Front. (photo:GLH)

Social Interaction

Interacting with neighbors is one benefit of city life. Typically, that involves people we have previously met, although not always (I still meet ‘new’ neighbors after living here for 4 years). Another aspect is the spontaneous, often serendipitous, meeting of someone new; the strangers. Traverse City doesn’t do this well. Most of us are in a routine of planned, predictable activities. Meeting someone new is left to an introduction by someone we do know.

There are ways to alter this tendency. Some solutions are institutional and we talk about them almost everyday on MyWHaT; vibrant public space is a wonderful impetus for interaction.   There are things we, as the 14,000 urban residents and 50-80,000 daily visitors to city can do to increase spontaneous & serendipitous encounters. Here are five:

  • Routine Shift: Have a favorite watering hole? Always go on Tuesday? Shift your day and shift your time. You’ll be surprised who you don’t recognize.
  • Ride BATA: I seldom ride public transit, but when I do I always learn something about someone I didn’t know.
  • Take a Moment: We have some great public spaces in the city. Have a meeting downtown? Take a moment to sit on a park bench and reflect. Read a book; someone may want to talk to you about it. You may not end up talking to anyone, but observing people in public is another means of knowing.
  • Eat Lunch Alone: Counter intuitive, but you never know who will walk-in. Join them.
  • Play Games: The art of getting together with a friend to play a game like chess is turning more and more to the internet, but why not splurge and play in public. If you see people playing a game, go watch. Ask to join. Invite someone, you might learn something.

I started the day with a post quoting urban planning guru Jan Gehl comparing a good city to a good party. This following quote of his addresses the issue further:

In a Society becoming steadily more privatized with private homes, cars, computers, offices and shopping centers, the public component of our lives is disappearing. It is more and more important to make the cities inviting, so we can meet our fellow citizens face to face and experience directly through our senses. Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life.” (Project for Public Spaces)

There are plenty of other activities that increase our chances of meeting someone new. What other activities are your favorites?

  1. September 27, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Great post, Gary! Having moved into my in-town house just under a year ago, I’m as guilty as any for not getting out and meeting my neighbors. This post is a call to action for me, and I’m making it a personal goal to get out and meet my neighbors in the next week or so.

  2. September 27, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Be open to it and it will come!

  3. September 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    We’re on a personal mission to explore all the region’s public play spaces. Our tax dollars hard at work for the love of our little people and the resulting sanity for the big people in their lives…

  4. September 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    One way I meet new people is to play basketball. We’re getting a TC Progressive Basketball Game going on Tuesday nights at the Civic Center at 6 PM until people stop showing up due to weather. Rumor has it that there are some ballers on MyWhAT…

    I learned from my dad that making eye contact with and saying hello to strangers goes a long way to connecting with people, and connections are what it’s all about.

  5. Kirstin
    September 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    andrew – i agree ! i’ve been playing pick up soccer for several years
    either outdoor or indoor (futsol). over time we have core players, and
    those who come and go, but it’s always a great way to meet a wonderfully
    diverse cross section of our community.

  6. susan
    September 27, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    I enjoy the city-like atmosphere and being near things I frequent. It doesn’t mean I have be Suzie hello neighbor every day and kumbiya my way though the neighborhood. Frankly I like the

  7. September 28, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Agree–pick-up sport games are an excellent way to survey a city of people. One of my favorite activities to do when traveling abroad is to ask to join games already in process–whether I speak the local language or not.

    Ashlea, you’d like to know that it was expressed that we need more multi-generational activities at our parks–equipment & designs that serve more than one-age group.

    Susan, I’m certainly not calling out for 1950’s nostalgia and Kumbiya sing along. Actually, some of the most interesting characters to meet in cities are the recluses and grumps. This post was originally meant to highlight the opportunities for surprises and meeting of strangers that a good city assists. This is something we don’t do well directly due to our high rate of car-use (even for short trips) and other cultural/institutional tendencies, like not recognizing that we indeed are an urban center. TC isn’t city-like, it is a city that serves 80-100 thousand people on a daily basis.

  8. Rick Shimel
    September 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Don’t forget the two biggest (perhaps) places to meet people, festivals and volunteering. Traverse City has a very good base of festivals but there is still room for more. Three come to mind; I love Toronto’s Busker Fest. We are way over do for a gay festival (I am starting the exploratory work). While in GR this weekend I stumbled through the ArtPrize (?) event. Fabulous.

    To the point of your not so cranky crank (you need serious help here, Gary) Central Neighborhood Association is having a meeting tonight with the Cherry Festival, Film Festival, Beer Fest, and Thirlby field on the agenda. I’m guessing it’s their annual bitch session; too loud, too much traffic, too many people, too much fun, wah, wah, wah. We are truly an urban center, micro as it is, not a bedroom community. If you live in a city you can expect noise and people. If you live in a city without this vibrancy you are living in a city in obvious decline.
    90% of the new local people I have met in the last 20 years have been through volunteering. You can double your exposure by volunteering at festivals. 90% of the new people I met before the last 20 years was through community sports, organized and pick up.

    All of that being said I am much like Susan. I live in a city for the proximity and choices of activities.

  9. September 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Good point about the events. I guess I overlooked them because I was thinking more day-today, but you’re certainly correct in that we have an abundance of events & festivals where people volunteer in large part because they meet people. The State Theatre also attracts a lot of this energy. They are all great things.

    I have a serious problem? Can’t wait to hear more about it…

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