“Late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair”
The mornings are quiet in her apartment, high over the bustle of the city streets. She enjoys the long vista looking out between the other towers to the harbor beyond. Amazing to think that this harbor once held clipper ships taking ice from
NE ponds to southern Africa. Of course there was also that other trade in rum and slaves that had so affected the experience of her ancestors and elders, even all through the last century. Such a long and complicated history this region had, and how rich it was to be able to look out over the landscape and imagine its many layers. Now the city is dotted with tall apartment and office towers, spaced so that shafts of sunlight and views to the horizon broke through between them, providing a sense of openness and views of the harbor and the hills to the east, even from her downtown perch.
A hot breeze rustles the vines of her balcony. Today the air feels more like the African veldt than the cold ice ponds of the region.
That trade from around the world is still a part of life she muses as she sips her organic fair trade coffee that comes from the mountains of Brazil. Coffee is one of the commodities that is still largely imported and now provides a good livelihood for the farmers of distant South American mountains. Her oranges are local though, grown all year in the greenhouse of her own apartment building. Her bones are pleased to soak up the heat from the sun caught in the sheltered corner of her balcony. Just enough breeze comes off the sea to stir the morning air. How pleasant the morning is, she thinks, as she settles into a chair among her fragrant tomato and basil plants, with her cat on her lap.
Her quiet morning suits her and she is glad to be past that part of life when she had to jump up in the morning, take care of kids and rush off to work. Back then she had a big house in one of the neighborhoods she can now see in the distance. She traded that for this efficient apartment where the balcony is almost as big as the living room. And she takes comfort in the knowledge that she will not have to move again. If she becomes more infirm, she will sign up for the additional services and oversight that the residential hotel and eldercare center offers, including nursing supervision. While she loves to cook in her compact kitchen, many days it is easier to drop down to the lobby and dine in one of the restaurants where she is bound to bump into some of her friends. Some nights she even orders in, to indulge in Chinese food in front of one of her favorite shows streamed into her big screen. No such guilty pleasure tonight though, today will be a busy day right through the evening. So nice, therefore, to start slow. She looks out again at the view and the bright clear sky, oh, its going to be a hot day today, she remarks to the cat, you’ll want to stay inside where its cool.
Her apartment is a tower with an innovative design where temperature control takes advantage of several design strategies. The basic heating and cooling is through ground-source heat pumps, using the constant temperature deep in the ground to warm and cool the radiant floors in the apartments. Max the cat loves to stretch out on the tile floors in every season, cooling himself in the summer or warming in the winter. While it is invisible to her, she understands the geo thermal system and it makes her feel rooted to the ground from her perch high in the sky. The deep balconies capture the low sun in the winter and shelter the interior in the summer, and the through ventilation allows her to open up to the ocean breezes whenever she wants.
She was so glad when one of the south-facing units came available, letting her bring her garden with her to the tower. She feels like a princess up in her aerie looking out over the city through her wild vine covered trellis. The south wall, where not covered with vines, is blanketed in solar panels and wind break and light shelves, all devices that maximize the comfort of the interior spaces while minimizing the energy use in the building. Her old bones, as she says, enjoy the feel of the direct sunlight but she marvels that the interior never gets too hot and her view is not threatened by the glare of the bright sun.
She volunteers in the daycare center at the public library three days a week, reading to the young kids and her favorite task, playing with the babies. In the old days, she remembers, you would never see kids during your workday – downtown was totally devoid of young people – or old for that matter, she laughs. It was a strange environment, all about work from 9-5. Now it seems there are daycare centers everywhere and since people live downtown, the place is popular with older people like herself who find it convenient. With the colleges right in the downtown, you now see people of all ages on the streets, from tots to the elderly.
The late 20th century practice of building suburban retirement communities for the elderly now seems like the height of foolishness. The suburbs might be OK for families from the 1950’s with three kids and one parent at home but the area was far too isolating for older people who would rather not drive – and who did not want to live where you only see your “own kind” from one end of the day to the next. Her residential hotel offers a lifestyle and convenience that appeals to many elders, but there is always a steady stream of shorter-term residents, visiting faculty at the universities, newcomers to town and even grad students from overseas. Many of the apartments are kept affordable so that people with different incomes live together in the community.
She loads up her shopping cart, folding up the old drapes she will drop off at the 2nd Life Center on the avenue for resale. Its big wheels serve to stabilize her walking (almost like a walker but without, as she feels it, advertising her infirmities. She rides down in the elevator, crosses the flagstone floor of the sunny lobby and steps carefully out onto the wide sidewalk. The smooth stone pavers are easy to traverse and the awnings that stretch out over the path, keep the late morning sun off her lightly stooped shoulders. The path is full of pedestrians some rushing to appointments others out for a more leisurely stroll. A breeze rustles through the tree canopy overhead.
Looking at the choices in the sidewalk path before her and feeling energized by her restful morning, she tends to the outside lane where the path, while smooth, slopes gently up and down giving her a little more exercise than the center lane. Under the flowering Ailanthus trees, the air is still and hot but the shade keeps it tolerable and she likes the sweet sticky summer smell of the blossoms. Their delicate white flowers sprinkle over the pavement like a summer snow, drifting into the cracks and outlining the pattern of the pavers.
At the corner she elects to cross into the greenway for a block to check on the under-story azaleas she noticed were in bloom last week. Her garden club planted these three years ago and she gets great pleasure from checking on their growth and the explosion of color they bring to the city. The greenway is shaded by tall American Elm trees, forming a cathedral-like space under their arching branches. She always feels like she stands up a bit straighter as she passes through this majestic tunnel in the dappled light. She is so glad the city began that tree nursery on the polluted brownfields so many years ago. When the greenway was laid out there were already large trees ready for planting there. Elms were planted because their great scale would create this magnificent space and soak up the maximum amount of carbon from the older vehicles that remain in the city. The air always seems fresher under the great trees. And the frequent fountains keep the air moist and cool.
The three different paths weave through the greenway, allowing her to walk slowly and deliberately without fear of being run down by the many cyclists zipping past. One of the paths is consistently gentle, smooth and level, surfaced with a porous bitumen that is lighter in color than the old asphalt surfaces. A second path is more difficult, with occasional steps and rolling hills built in. The surface changes and uses wide stone pavers spaced with grass coming up between. This one is more interesting and requires that she pay attention to her steps, but she likes the additional workout she gets and the special rewards the designers built in – it gets her closer to her favorite flowers and the “best bench in the city”, a spot under the elms, near one of the fountains, with a view to the large busy public plaza across the avenue. After two blocks on her “workout path” she returns to the city streets refreshed.
The broad city boulevard is alive with activity even on a swelteringly hot day like today. You just need to look more carefully to see it in the deep shadows of the many brightly colored awnings and café umbrellas.
One of the cafes has a giant paddle fan, suspended on cables over the outdoor seating. Powered by solar panels, it rotates lazily, providing a welcome slight breeze. With the mini waterfall that borders the plaza and the shade trees, the fan creates a micro climate that makes it comfortable to sit outdoors even on a hot day like today. Parts of the “floor” of the outdoor café is covered by light colored pavers with low ground cover growing up between them, so the heat doesn’t build up in the surface. Veronica thinks back to sitting there a few months ago when the weather was still quite chilly and the trees had not yet leafed out. At that time the awnings on the building were pulled away and the brick façade of the café, with the darker brick pavers close to the building, held the heat of the afternoon sun and created a warm and comfortable place to bask in the warming weather. How clever that this public space could capture and accommodate these changing seasons.
We could do four seasons of an outdoor plaza – Using a photo of the space across from Trinity church.
The 2nd Life Center is one of her favorite shops. When she made the transition that she thinks of as her “second life” from the ‘burbs to her apartment, into her empty nest widowhood, the center became a kind of touchstone, here she left off her old belongings, confident that they would serve someone else well, and she found new inexpensive furnishings and even wonderful art pieces for her new home. The whole process helped her see the change as a part of a larger cycle and made her feel a member of her new community. She even worked at the center for a while when she first came to town. That was how she learned the history of the project – how it started as a small venture of one art student to recycle art supplies from semester to semester, instead of filling up trash dumpsters with useable supplies every year. Now it was a full-scale recycling center for all manner of household and office items, with branches in every neighborhood.
The flagship store, with its associated small repair shops, takes up the ground floor of an old warehouse building that was converted to condo apartments. As she enters the tall-ceilinged space, she breathes in the cool air, redolent with the smells of old wood and organic paints and finishes. The polished wide board floors gleam in the morning sunlight and the heavy exposed beams speak of the space’s long life and the many uses it has filled from the days it was a wool mill, spinning and weaving fabric to clothe Union soldiers. An archivist discovered renderings of the mill in its first use and these adorn the walls. The cheerfully chaotic assemblies of old and refinished furniture and racks of clothes contrast with the orderly march of machines and workers in the pictures. Young college kids staff the help desk, tapping away at their hand held computer devices. Two hundred years, young women from the farms stood for hours working the looms, steadily concentrating on the monotonous work, striving to get faster and more accurate so as to keep pace with the work load. So different is the cheerful cacophony of the bustling shop now.
Large barn-like doors separate the store from the workshops that have collected next to it. One shop takes in old furniture, repairs it and refinishes or paints it. She bought her coffee table here – an original artwork – a colorful primitive style painting – covering an old oak table. The apparel design students are always shopping there, looking for old clothes to inspire or to cannibalize for new works. Everything, it seems can be re-used. Next door is a repair shop which renews small appliances and a shoemaker who does repairs, remakes old shoes and builds custom shoes.
Recently, in a small corner of the cavernous space, the most recent addition, an artisan who builds and repairs string instruments, has set up shops, with violins and cellos lining his walls. Next to his old world craftsmanship is the clean room, where behind big windows computers are disassembled and rebuilt. Odd, how in her youth everything was trash. Piled up in huge mountains and shipped to unknown places to be thrown away. Now old objects find new uses; what one person discards, another treasures.
The sidewalk in front of the library is broad and flat, with a few café tables spilling out from the library café, the mix of bluestone and brick create pattern she admires every time she takes this walk, about once a week. In the summer the shade trees cool the area, in the winter the café stays open, with the tables sheltered from the winds and soaking up the midday sun.
The tall doors swing open easily, counterweighted so that even an elderly woman with a walker feels invited. Behind comes a slight woman handily manipulating a double stroller, that is barely containing two rambunctious boys. Hello Theo and Max coos Veronica happy to see her favorite trouble-makers, too hot for the playground today?
The lobby is tall and cool after the heat of the street. The atrium is open at the top, drawing a cool breeze up from below the street to cool the space. Veronica recognizes this “magic” since she learned about it in her own building. The daylight is diffused with brightly colored awnings throwing spots of color around like a stained glass window would. People of all ages are moving about the lobby.
The hall is full of upward energy. Wide stairs lead to the second floor reading rooms and provide carpeted platforms at mid levels for the more agile and adventurous readers to lounge on. Spilling out over the street is a Luckey Climber, a wild magnificent net holding wavy decks of colorful clear plastic, that seem impossible to penetrate. Yet squealing kids are climbing all over it up to the second and third levels of the building. Veronica laughs at them and announces to no one in particular – I think I’ll take the elevator.
Even the elevator looks out into the atrium so all these ways of ascending are linked together visually. Even in the quieter areas reading rooms of the library, large glass windows allow views of the atrium and the climber or out to the shady street. Banks of computer terminals allow everyone access to online data, sophisticated printing and projection technologies. Certain terminals are set aside for community projects where the data is automatically shared and made accessible to others in the teams. Other sets operate “normally” with everything password protected and encoded for privacy.
In one large room, online links are set up with kids and schools around the world, the bank of screens connecting local kids to their peers in Zimbabwe and Patagonia. As she looks in, she notices that the vigorous scholarly work of exchanging dance moves is going on as laughter and delight from across the world fills the room.
After a half hour in the “adult” reading room, she ventures back down to the daycare center where she knows she will encounter Max and Theo, hopefully a little tired out by 3 or 4 excursions up and down the climber. Today, she plans to read one of her favorite stories to the kids, Dr. Seuss’s tale of the Lorax. She loves connecting the kids to the fables that were read to her by her parents and to them by theirs.
In the library courtyard she sits in the shade to eat the small lunch of fruit salad and yogurt that she brought along. Kids are jumping in and out of the fountain, splashing, keeping cool and it must be said, cooling off all those near enough to be splashed by their antics. She enjoys the heat rising from the pavement and the contrast with the cool spray. More on heat
After the reading session, she decides to shop for her groceries at the farmer’s market. Because of her love of fresh produce, she comes every couple of days and knows many of the vendors well. They haggle good-naturedly over the price of the new strawberries and she discusses when the peaches will be plentiful from the adjacent farms. The green houses all over the city provide a lot of vegetables all year but she still savors the onset of fresh fruit from the fields.
She loads up her shopping cart with the milk, eggs and vegetables, and moves to the end of the arcade to wait for the bus that will take her back to her own neighborhood. Before she sits down, she buys a fresh fruit smoothie and sips the thick icy drink to cool off.
The LED display lets her know that the bus will arrive in eight minutes, right on schedule, so she picks up a newspaper from the vendor there and rolls up onto the platform and sits down in the shade to wait. When the bus arrives she wheels her cart straight on and parks it next to her seat and settles in for the short ride home. A couple of younger folks toss their bikes up onto the racks and jump up onto the bus.
As she enters the lobby of her apartment house, she stops to chat with a neighbor who is coming down the wide steps from the interior garden court. A significant proportion of the residents are older and the shallow steps to the garden and restaurant are interrupted with landings and sittings spaces, the view of the street and the court encourages people to use the steps. Today however, she has groceries, so she takes the elevator directly upstairs. She’ll come down to have a late tea with her friends in the garden, before heading out to her choral performance tonight.
She is always amazed that the courtyard garden stays so cool, even in the late afternoon of mid-summer. The skylights that stretch across the top of the court open up to draw the hot air out and their shades deflect the sunlight and create the cool shade, the fountain spays up jets of water and the plants give off moisture too. Because the hot air is always rising in the tall shaft of space and cool air comes in from vents the underground tunnels, a cool breeze is constant. In the winter the whole system reverses. Solar mirrors bounce the lower winter sunlight into the court. The reflected light hits the masonry walls and floor of the court, which hold and amplify the suns warmth.
The courtyard restaurant is her favorite spot for a simple meal.
Mark and George are waiting for her when she arrives. Mark is tall, slender and dark. Once he would have been characterized as African American but the ties to Africa are so far back and everyone is so mixed together now, that these ethnic characterizations are fading out of use. His partner of 35 years is by contrast short and round, and fair. They introduced her to the choral group and they will all be singing together tonight.
As they make their way down the city street to the theater they talk about restaurants. Avid gourmets, Mark and George always amaze Veronica by keeping up with all the latest eateries. Every block has several different places to eat and there seems to have a new one every 6 months. There are Thai, French, Eithiopian, South Indian, and Brazilian, just in the first block alone. She looks up at the wall of offices and apartments and the towers rising behind them with many stories of more and more apartments and thinks that one of the great benefits of living so closely together in the city is this explosion of great options for food, theater, art and shopping.
Back in the last century when the cities were in decline so few people lived there that they could not support the variety of commerce and culture that makes the city fun and in turn draws more people to want to live there.
Add street trees to image
Fortunately, the ecological crises made it clear that the city offered the most sustainable lifestyle and people began to move back into the city as its amenities increased and that in turn drew more people. Now, a city that had peaked in the 19th century at a population of 200,000 and declined in the late 20thC to half that was now exploding with 300,000 people and all the excitement that went with that influx.
Fortunately as it grew, the city recognized the pioneering contribution the arts had made to bringing people back to urban life and artists and crafts people continue to live in the city neighborhoods with their rent stabilized to reflect the value they bring to the whole.
A few blocks down the avenue is the community theater with its brightly lit marquee announcing tonight’s concert. Sneaking past the crowd of all ages and ethnicities, all apparently talking at once, Mark, George and Veronica duck into the stage door. She still feels like a star struck kid when she gets to do that, there is just something magical about dark theater awaiting a performance. Techs move about positioning lights by remote control and checking sound levels.
The concerts have become a beloved aspect of community life and this year, they are having a sing off with the high school accapella group. It promises to be a fun night. Families are pouring in to the theater, some to watch kids and their grandparents at the same time.
It is hard for Veronica to explain how important this singing group has become for her. When she had first moved to downtown, she was afraid she would not have any friends or know what to do with herself. She met Max at he library one day where he was volunteering and they had lunch. He urged her to come hear his group sing that evening in the rooftop meeting room of his apartment building. He somehow how failed to make clear that they were having a workshop in shape note singing and there would be no audience of onlookers that night – everybody had to sing. Standing in a big square with other people, she had looked around to see faces of all colors, and kinds; young art students, older professor types, a woman in an elegant business suit, a workman with his tools still sticking out of his jeans pocket, a young couple whispering that they had found a babysitter at the last minute. Then the plumber, as she thought of him, suddenly stepped into the center of the square and started to lead the singing in his deep baritone. The room erupted into loud, full-throated almost mystical chant-like melodies. Everyone sang apparently as loud as they could, very, very old American tunes, as old as the country she thought. They stood singing at each other with complete abandon for more than an hour without a break. She could hardly stand up she was getting so tired and yet she felt energized and exultant. The singing was so physical and so spiritual. These people she had not even spoken to were metamorphosing into friends as their voices blended together.
Still high as she walked home that night, she tried to figure it out what it was all about. Community she thought at last. Exulting together at making something beautiful with just our voices. That’s what we were doing. She had been singing with Mark and George ever since.
Tonight they are singing with a choral group of elders, everyone over the age of 65. That was once considered an appropriate age for mandatory retirement but many of her fellow singers are still busy at their jobs. Tonight they are facing off directly with the younger generation kids the age of their grandchildren. The program was worked out with lots of generational trading and jokes – each group singing some songs from the other’s era. The energy of the concert is tremendous and the finale is a joint rendition of classical Beatles songs.
As they all walk home after the show the streets are full of groups of people, inspired by the concert, singing to each other. The streets are alive with the sound of music Veronica hums tiredly.