Breathing Space

I came to the capital for a one-year internship, like so many Washingtonians, believing I'd get my fill of city life and move on to greener pastures, literally. Now, three years later, my relatives in rural Pennsylvania fret when I'm home for holidays. "You're not planning to stay there, are you?" Used to be I'd say no. Lately I'm saying maybe.

I love living in a place where pigeons wheel in the intersections, where people ride the metro, where poverty and power collide and snarl, where you're never sure what might happen when you step out on a given morning. And I have this vision: a block of row houses with a common backyard. My friends and I have torn down the fences, plowed up the alley, and there are tomatoes, pole beans, kids and chickens, potlucks and concerts.

Just when I think I'd better pack up my utopia and hit the interstate, along comes Emilie Buchwald's Toward A Livable City. A collection of 15 or so essays from urban planners, professors, and poets, it kicks off with a couple of tributes to gourmet pizza, yoga classes, and, oh, the cacophonous congeniality of the city. Thankfully, the book sobers up (after the obligatory rant against SUVs) and tackles gentrification. Public transportation. Opportunity-based housing. Urban agriculture. Smart growth. Tax reform. Regional planning. By the end, I'm learning from the experts what it takes to truly love and change a city.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2004
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