I originally thought this email newsletter would be about interesting trends, articles and podcasts related to cities. It might grow into that, but for now, I’d like to take a more personal direction and write about things I’ve learned about cities as I’ve navigated a very unexpected transition from living in the grand metropolis of New York City to the not-so-grand-non-metropolis of Waco, Texas. For now, this will be a series of five emails.
I moved to Waco 18 months ago from Brooklyn. I came here originally for a nine-month theology program, thinking it might make an enriching break from city living. The program was quite enriching, but I was stunned by the city from the moment I arrived.
I was shocked by the sprawl, by the high-speed corridors cutting through neighborhoods where children play, by the homelessness, by the abandoned homes and commercial lots, by the expansion of I-35 creating barriers between neighborhoods.
You’d think that after the program ended, I would grab my bags and my tree and bolt back to the East Coast and yes, that was my original plan, but I didn’t. I stayed actually. I’m not really sure why (it probably had to do with community).
Instead, I moved into a historic home close to downtown, relocated my things here from my Brooklyn-based storage unit (including my French bike) and set up an account at the co-working space a 5 min ride away.
In the months since then, I’ve continued to struggle with culture shock. Sometimes I’m convinced that I’m having a full-on identity crisis.
Brooklyn wasn’t perfect in many ways, but as someone who loves cities, I felt at home there and got to experience some of the best of urban life: street life, mixed-use development, parks, public transit, cheap ethnic food, street music.
Here in Waco…not so much. The people are friendlier, but it’s a struggling car-centric city, which means lots of abandoned lots, stroads, parking lots, pickup trucks and chain stores. Living here is stretching me to say the least.
Yet, despite all of my anger and angsty tears, I’ve come to see the wisdom in living here. Living in Waco is forcing me to wrestle with the North American city in a way that would not have been possible if I were living in Brooklyn or Brussels.
We might not get along very well, but Waco has become my teacher of sorts and I her reluctant student. As I traverse the city by bike or foot, the city unfolds new insights about what makes cities work…or not.
Over the next few emails, I’ll share some of the ideas and realizations that I’ve had about cities, neighborhoods and communities since living here.
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