Here’s a bit I wrote years ago. I am wordy – sheesh. But I don’t believe it’s irrelevant, despite its age. Or maybe it’s tone-deaf in our climate today? So…
I am becoming the street
The city loves us, we are its tribe.
And its streets are ours. They are the keepers of our history — concealing and occasionally revealing hidden narratives, squirrelling away collections of things and people that came before. Perhaps a little heartbreak, scads of joy and no doubt a balance of dissent.
In great cities, the spaces, places and streets are designed and built for everyone. Such cities are organized around participation in public life, its citizens the key players. Today’s streets should be more than just the gaps between the buildings. Quite the opposite. Since city streets have historically been the fabric of a city’s dynamism, they are due a revival. Can we dare consider streets a destination in themselves? Even in our city?
As drivers of urban prosperity, our streets can no longer be viewed as arterial corridors or routes dictated by grid patterns alone. With a little imagination and a commitment to the vitality of all people, there can be charm as well as access commingling beautifully with grit and artistry. Human traffic moveable by all manner of transport.
It’s a dreamy, albeit possible landscape: space for humanity, creativity, health and urban vitality. Even for flow.
How we use this city varies widely, as does consensus on how we should design it. I have the great fortune of making downtown Guelph my neighbourhood, with all the conveniences of appointments, shopping, exercise, and friendly faces easily within reach.
Some tips from my neighbourhood then: Crossing the river on foot via the Norwich, Eramosa or Heffernan bridges to reach the core should always be delayed with a quick pause. Even on the tightest schedule. The shush of a sunrise or sunset, the pageant of the changing leaves, the chaos of goslings or even a sighting of the Guelph Eagle, makes it entirely possible to block out the rushing traffic. And then you carry on.
Up to Wyndham Street and you’re in the thick of it. Ornate old buildings house mixed bags of products, wafting smells from the restaurants, hangers on and passers by. Everything and everyone on display. This street on a Monday night is a vastly different experience to that of a Saturday morning. But it does go to sleep loudly each night and wakes a little dirtier. As it should. It breathes and shifts and settles back into itself again.
For optimal impact, Douglas Street is best entered from Wyndham Street.
St. George’s Anglican is but one of our many stone churches and she’s a beauty plopped right there at the end of this narrow street. Some want it cobbled. We can all see why.
Into the magnificent Old Quebec Street where you’re left with the impression that the possibilities are limitless. Out, then, to Macdonell with espresso quaffing elders right alongside the spit and polish of the refurbished Western Hotel, a place mirroring the reinvention of this street, itself a symbol of a reimagined city centre.
There are so many more streets and nooks and crannies to tour and I’m out of time to go on about my beloved alleyways. Here’s the thing though: our streets can unearth things we didn’t even know were there. Things we neglected to consider because we didn’t know where to look. Or we couldn’t access.
But they are ours for the making, ours for the taking.
Find this original piece here