Urban Eden – Imaging the Future City

Wintersession 2010 Studio
Anne Tate

Too often our predictions for the future are based on the limitations we experience or fear and result in distopian visions of the city. In this course, we will open our minds and imaginations to the positive possibilities, considering what kind of environments we could construct if we used all our resources effectively and fairly.

Based on the idea that the key to the city of the future is a new relationship to nature, we will consider the American conceptions of nature from the Native Americans, the colonial era, the frontier, the rise of the industrial city and the explosion of the suburbs. We will explore ideas about nature: wilderness, pastoralism, agriculture, the middle landscape, organic farming, urban gardens, which have given form to our ideals of the landscape and the city. We will reconsider how to integrate nature and the city in a new paradigm.

Each student will be asked to create a contributing idea, image, or design to a utopian conception of life in the city. These will not be fantasies but projections that are well grounded in current and near-future strategies and technologies. Encompassing a wide range of issues, individual projects will complement and expand on each other. The projects will be reviewed for inclusion in a publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall

Xin lives in the quieter more suburban neighborhood of the city where triple decker houses line up on the narrow streets. Her house, like most on her street, holds three apartments and they share a small back yard. But it is the sunnier front yard that has always been Xin’s favorite spot. Gotta check on the crops, she calls up to her granddad up on the balcony of the second floor apartment he lives in over the one Xin shares with her parents and three siblings – I won’t be late for school.  In the front yard, a sunny patch of ground about 20’ by 20’, Xin and her grandfather are growing bok choi, lettuce, pea tendrils, carrots, and zucchini. She grabs a bright yellow squash flower and pops it in her mouth. XX, she calls back, you’d better pull in some of these this afternoon – looks like a storm is coming. She scans the clear sky for the distant clouds, something about the crisp cool breeze feels to her like trouble.   She could check the internet news for storm tracking information but she prefers to cultivate her instincts for sudden weather patterns.

Modify with plants on balconies and roofs. Deepen front yard and add plantings, include some corn.  Add tree lawn and street fruit trees.

As she glides down the wide sidewalks on her skateboard, Xin passes many small front gardens full of ripening vegetables.  Her neighbors yard is full of spicy chili peppers. Bright red tomatoes trail out of window boxes on the balconies overlooking the street.  The traditional triple-decker buildings are topped with green roofs and more gardens.  On her block the street trees are a variety of fruit trees. The cherries are all done by the apples are still ripening.

Confirming her suspicions about the storm, she sees several of her neighbors out with ladders hurrying to pick the last of the fruit. Somebody else is worried she thinks.  At least it will be a half day so I can go help pull in the crops at the farm when classes are over.

Her morning classes fly by as the science days always do for Xin.  A full morning of one subject allows for serious immersion in their experiments, and suddenly it is time for lunch.  In the sunny cafeteria, the students line up to assemble their salads and dish up the vegetarian stew.  Xin has a weakness for the fresh bread and butter.  She recognizes the lettuce from the school gardens and loads up on the tomatoes that were picked that morning.    Who needs dessert with these babies she croons to her friend Sally.  Besides I’m going straight into town for a smoothie as soon as the bell rings for early release.

School is out and Xin grabs her skateboard and dashes out across the former parking lot – they tell her years ago lots of teenagers drove to school – seems very odd. Why would anyone want to be saddled with a giant hunk of metal all day when it is so much easier to get around by zooming by on a board, or a bike. Now the area is another athletic field with a quick pick up soccer game forming already.

Add skyline behind field

She jumps on the board to roll out on to the wide sidewalk. Rules of the road, dictate staying out of the way of baby carriages and pedestrians, so she hangs to the outer edge of the sidewalk until the bike path appears just before the bridge over the highway.  Reaching into her pocket she pulls out the snack she grabbed from the lunch cafeteria. Fruit chips sweetened and dried are her favorite.  She helped make them last summer when the bumper crop came in at the orchards.

The vines on the overpass are turning bright red and the bamboo below is yellow in the late afternoon sun. In the old days the walk over the highway was desolate and windy, but today the wind breaks gently through the leaves and the colorful walls shield the view to below.

Moving through this leafy tunnel is a magical part of her daily commute.  It was years before she thought to wonder how the vines grew so far up in above the ground and the road below. That was the moment when she began to think about engineering and design – when she puzzled out the relationship between the giant lotus flower like columns that were providing shade and catching rainwater along the bridge. From them came small pipes irrigating the planting boxes running along the fence. Now the whole structure was deeply buried in years of growth, turning light golden green early in the spring, then deep and full green in the summer – totally blocking out the sense of the traffic streaming below. Then in her favorite incarnation in the fall it was converting to bright brittle red. In the winter the skeletal vines will reveal their structure and make a lacey porous shroud to the bridge.  Industrial design or plant science – someday she will have to choose a college major, for now she vacillates daily about her life direction.

On the other side of the bridge, entering downtown she picks up the greenway, zipping past the fountains that provided such splashing relief in the hot summer, but it is too cool to get wet today. There is time though for a quick detour to the market to smell the spices and buy some fresh fruit. Besides that cute guy from science class is working upstairs at the rooftop greenhouse. He says there are still raspberries coming – better check.

In spite of her hurry, she takes the winding path, laid out under the big trees for those who want to meander or get a better workout. The short ramps and wide steps might not have been designed for the skateboarder but they sure do provide some challenging detours.  Taking the jumps at full speed she’ll still get there before her buddy knocks off at the green house – maybe they can get a smoothie at the café before she jumps the bus for the ride to the park for the harvest party.

If not maybe she’ll stop at the park for a few rounds of the latest video game on the big outdoor screen. There are usually a couple of kids there pumping their stationary bikes to power the projector. It really makes the game better than the WiiX at home because you throw your whole body into it.  But if that cute guy is at the market, the fresh raspberry smoothie will do.

As she approaches the market building, Xin notices the unusual crowd. A kind of electricity is in the air and she realizes a storm is coming. People are stocking up on groceries and their bustle mingles with the slight spark in the air and the stirrings of the breezes in the brightly colored leaves. There is always something kind of exciting about the fall, she thinks.
No time for raspberries today, she had better hussle out to the fields to help pull in the last of the xx harvest before the hurricane hits. Besides, her buddy from science class is bound to have had the same thought. These early afternoon releases from school are designed to give students the chance to help on the community farms that weave through the city.  Just then she gets a text message: Hurricane alert. Come harvest now.  She looks at the sky and laughs – I guess some people need an official notification – like it isn’t perfectly obvious that a storm is coming!

The farm

Xin first learned about the farm as a small child when the day care group took a field trip to the farm to watch them make cheese.  All the local farms have close relationships with the preschools and elementary schools.  The farmers also help with the schoolyard gardens that extend every classroom out into the yards.  They even bring animals to the schools for special garden day events. They know their help pays off later when the high school provides lots of volunteers at harvest time and a new crop of young farmers graduate from the advanced Vo-tech Agriculture program ready to join the expanding farmers networks.

The 4-H Clubs are now a big deal in the region, with hydroponics, bio-art, heritage fruits and vegetables, plus the incredible genome video puzzle games that teach kids the science of protein folding into complex origami like shapes.

The high school garden includes a high tech greenhouse where the science students experiment with breeding modified crops and new organic methods. The winner of last year’s science fair had developed a new spicy pepper that would grow in cooler temperatures extending the season and the availability of this traditionally southern delicacy.

Many years ago people had a fear of modified crops but that was in the days when corporations led the research and were distorting the products so that farmers were dependent on the companies for new seed or fertilizers or pesticides. But then the major grants started going to the universities and their biology departments where the genius of nature’s complex ecologies were respected and mimicked and the research all landed in the public domain. The narrow gain economic model that tried to restrict all discoveries to benefit a few finally gave way to open source genetic mash up.

The high school kids now compete to get into the best university research programs to tackle the opportunities to breed the best greenhouse tomatoes or drought resistant wheat. One model for this innovation came from the discovery in the early 21st century that feeding cows flax grains instead of corn, improved their health and reduced their flatulence, which had by then been identified as a significant source of Greenhouse gases.  Once agricultural research support was channeled to sustainable practices, the special gains unique to market efficiency helped open and accelerate innovation.  The health of grazing animals and  the ecology of prairie crops, once tackled together created new models of farming.

As Xin approaches the cheese farm, as the kids have always called the Fields Point Farm ever since the pre-school field trips, she first sees the long row of wind mills lining the waters edge. Lots of her classmates arrive at the same time. Some of the older retired folks pull up in a van from the library and  young families arrive in groups. The teenagers know the routine and take charge of dividing up the work crews. This time it is serious business – an elderly black woman looks thoughtfully at the approaching clouds and warns this is going to be a big storm and it may make landfall by dark.

In the fields, Xin pulls up greens and tosses them to her friend who places them in the truck. She thinks about what they learned last week in class about the soil and the history of farming in this region. Her fingers deep in the dark damp earth, she marvels at how the early NE farmers found a barely hospitable soil in this region.

After years of farming in Europe they had come to expect a deep rich layered dirt, but that came only after centuries of piling on the shit as her teacher had said, making the whole class laugh. What the first settlers found was a much less receptive soil, thinner, full of rocks, difficult to make the yields they hoped for, yet in unimaginable supply, endless expanses of land, there for the taking form the Indians, who did not have the same concept of ownership. Always, there was more land, maybe better land further out there.  Whenever they exhausted the soil, American farmers kept moving on.

They would cut back the forest, clear, farm for a while, then decide to look for more fertility elsewhere.  The patient centuries of building the soil were not for them.  When they hit the western plains, the expanse of open land was mind blowing, with opportunity everywhere. If you could sit on the land for a year and “improve” it, make it yield a crop, it was yours to keep.  The delicate ecology of tough prairie grasses was stripped away for miles of “amber waves of grain. The advent of the railroad and the ability to ship commodities long distances sealed the practice of large mono-crops.  And then came the ranchers.  (do I want to go into this here?)

After a while, Americans and their sophisticated agribusiness practices practically destroyed the fertility of the land, stripping away the top soil and substituting petrochemical fertilizers for the rich hummus of compost, and toxic pesticides for natural pest control.

The curriculum this year blends the social and political history with a natural history of the American continent.  The history courses are coordinated with plant science and ecology.  History, politics, science and economics all are seen as interrelated in the development of American ideas.  How could anyone expect to understand the development of the American West without a deep appreciation for the kind of agricultural practices that were common then? Xin wonders.  She traces her own fascination for that period of American history to her mother reading her the stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  She still loves the descriptions of the abundant natural world. The woods teeming with wild life, the prairies with their tall grasses all have an exotic and remote feel for her city life. Still, she thinks, at least I can be a farmer and live in the city with all my friends nearby.  And her science project this term is focused on the ecology of the prairie.  In her favorite class, the innovation studio, the kids al have different projects working with mentors who include the teachers, but also students form the local university and the art school. Some of her peers are experimenting with ideas for products made from the tall grasses. She is more interested in the way the grasses hold the soil and whether they can be used to stabilize certain over-farmed areas.  Dirt, for me it is always about getting in the dirt, she laughs.  Imagine that the tall grass prairie was almost completely obliterated by agriculture, replaced by corn and soybean farms in the last century. Now we understand how much the grasses have to offer, as biofuels, and a replacement for petroleum plastics. Plus they can be harvested without destroying the ecology.  It is nice to feel that we live in a smart age she thinks marveling at how destructive earlier practices were in the name of “progress”.

She has been fascinated to study the original treatises by Frederick Jackson Turner that helped establish so much of the American philosophy of the frontier spirit.  (more clarity here)

The “Cheese Farm” is a special

Convert park to farm fields, add dark clouds on horizon

place as it sits, not on some imagined virgin plot of land, but where the scrap-yards and an asphalt plant once stood. In its earliest form the area was tidal flats and several small islands, one evocatively called Starve-Goat Island.  The land had been filled in and then badly polluted in the first half of the 20th century.  The remediation devised by the early 21st C was to plant it – letting the plant life suck up the heavy metals and other pollutants, first special grasses, then ornamental plants for sale, until many generations of plants later it had finally become clean enough grow food. Each year a new layer of planting sucked down into the soil to pull up the poisons and take them out of the soil, while at the same time each planting added organic material back and built up the nutrient capacity of the dirt.  New techniques for phyto-remediation and intensification of fertilizing have recaptured many fallow industrial areas for farming.  The large-scale industrial production left the area for good many decades ago but the revaluing of fresh local food has put the land into production.  So where farms had stood in the 18th Century, industry in the 19th and 20th, now was a combination of water treatment and food production.  History and dirt – it all comes together she thinks.

The coming storm present two dangers –the immediate one to the crops and a more lasting danger of letting the topsoil get washed out to sea in the storm.  The farm sits on the very edge of the harbor and she looks up to review the fortified edge of the low lying agricultural fields near the water’s edge.  Mini dykes have been built there to hold back the run off of the fields, making the landscape look almost like Holland.  On the water side of the dykes stretches a  long area of low salt flats, high and dry in the low tide but intermittently flooded by high tides. Later today as the storm hit the area’s tall grasses will slow the waves and the flats will absorb some of the storm surge.  Engineering again, she ponders. The outer edges of the fields are planted with grasses that can survive the salt wash when a really big storm overtops the dykes and one way drains will let the fields drain without washing away the soil, after the surge subsides. Still she thinks, we could lose a lot of the crop if I don’t get this group motivated to work harder. She jumps up on a crate and shouts out some well chosen inspirational words aimed at her comrades:  “Come on you lazy buggers lets get this xx in now” who can beat me and make a full crate in five minutes?”

Across the fields other farm workers and volunteers are tending to the animals, moving the grazing animals into shelters.  The animals are more than willing – their senses tell them to get into a protected space. The chickens have been hunkered down all day in their traveling henhouses. Now the houses are being pulled under the wide overhanging roof of the goat barn and tied up to the sheltering concrete wall of the barn.  The roof is slatted so that it won’t break apart in the high winds in the hurricanes that have become a regular feature of the fall.

In this region of the Northeast, there has been a revival of small organic farms surrounding and running through the city, all feeding produce to the farmers market network that runs through the neighborhoods.  Because some of these also raise animals, chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs mostly, these are a complement to the more high tech vertical farms that grow food in greenhouses right in the center of the city.

The animals are raised to provide milk, eggs and meat.  Though most families eat meat much less often these days, it has remained a favorite treat appearing at least once or twice a week in most families’ diets.  Chicken and pork are preferred, beef is a true luxury, since the cattle farms were limited to certain regions and a certain size after the ecological damage of their  impact became visible to the society.  When it became widely understood that the practice of raising animals for meat in CAFO lots was contributing to worldwide flu epidemics the lots were severely restricted and fell out of use. Now the meat is free range, less available and more expensive. But people have found that they are healthier and new menus specializing in protein substitutes and stretching meat for flavor, have taught people how to eat healthier.  Beef is especially rare in most diets, its cost reflecting the ecological stress of large cattle herds and the expense of shipping the meat long distances. The old Catholic habit of fish Fridays has been joined by meat Mondays. Chicken is a protein source of choice and eggs are plentiful. Chickens are now kept on most rooftop gardens, their scratching habit used to promote the health of the soil and their droppings used as fertilizer.

Goat milk and cheese are the most popular diary products since tehy is much more widely available. The goats are bred for the taste and yield of their milk.  Like chickens many goats can be kept on the small farms in the city, even on the roofs.

Small dairy farms do exist on the edge of town.  On the outskirts of the city ornamental lawns have been replaced with sweeping expanses of hayfields to feed the highly valued cows through the winter.

Every farmer in the region is responsible not only for his/her own produce and animals but  for the long term productivity of their land. The land is recognized as a valuable community resource and it=s treated as such. The tax breaks for farmers incur with them an obligation to steward the land, maintain the richness of the topsoil and to acknowledge the public interest in the views of the open land. Most farmers also cultivate public support by involving the community directly in some way, like the high school internships, field trips and after-school programs.  As a result when one of the hurricanes is forecast, concern for the farms is widespread, as is the pool of helpers who show up.

As the storm aapproaches, the vertical farms and rooftop greenhouses are busy too, making sure all their hurricane protections are in place. The light shelves and solar panels are all pulled flat to the buildings, making them look like tulips tightly closed up for the night.   The plants are covered tightly while the lighter greenhouse structures are opened up to let the high speed winds rush through without tearing them apart. The valves to the cisterns are opened to full to capture as much of the rain as they can. The storm water system is likewise put into full capture mode with the deep well reservoirs opened to catch the runoff.  All this is done with a few switches at the various control stations around the city.  The canal-like pools that run through the greenway are emptied into the underground reservoirs to make room for the torrents of new water that will fall on the city.
The city knows how to hunker down when a really big storm comes. And they do. Even with our sudden reversal of fossil fuel consumption the effects of global climate change are still present and periodic hurricanes have become expected in many coastal cities.  The hurricane barrier is used a few times a season to hold back the worst of the storm surges from the sea, but the effects of heavy rainfall on the inland areas is managed in the extensive wetland parks and water channels build to withstand the regular forces of what were once called hundred year storm events.  For a few hours or even a day or two in an extreme storm, urban neighborhoods become like islands surrounded by parkland that has turned into lakes.

Because the parks are designed to cope with these events, the roadways and bikeways are on high ground and become like a network of bridges through the lakes out of which rise the big trees.  This wholesale transformation of the city’s landscape is a major event in the city, seen as an adventure by the younger set and for the older citizens a reminder of how far the design of the city has come.  Buildings are fortified against the winds and so people can feel safe and dry inside, essential services are unimpaired because the land is designed to handle the water and keep the transportation routes open.

Power is distributed, every neighborhood has its own back up systems and no area is dependent on vulnerable exposed power lines. Instead of evacuating the city, people hunker down at home, watching the storm pass. When necessary, emergency personnel bunk down at work and all services keep going.  Communication is all wireless and uninterrupted by the storm, which the kids regret as their school lessons are sent home to them over the internet.

Xin looks up again and surveys the fields – this will all look like the rice fields by tomorrow morning she thinks. We will be totally underwater, Let’s keep moving folks, she shouts, urging them on, We are almost done the row!

Her phone buzzes with the message: Storm will hit at 5pm, after harvest party starts at 6.

As predicted the rain begins to fall just after 5pm, the sky is dark and the lights of the city are on in the distance. The very wet dirty and tired volunteers hurry back to the shelter of the barn as the trucks move the harvested produce off to the safety of warehouse.  The barn is steamy and warm, the animals are making a ruckus, squawking and lowing. But the well-lit space, smelling of damp hay, feels cozy and protected while outside the winds are picking up.

Add people to barn view

Besides there is that fantastic smell of the pots of hot vegetable stew that have been cooking all afternoon in preparation of this moment.   A mug of hot cider is raised by the farm manager, Great work and many thanks to everyone – we got in almost everything – you folks have saved the harvest!  Now eat up and get home before the families start worrying about you!  Vans will start leaving in half an hour to transport you to your neighborhoods – no skateboarding home in this weather, he says, looking pointedly at Xin.  Everyone laughs, then cheers giddy from the exhaustion and sense of accomplishment.  They pass around cups of stew, sit on bales of hay and brag about their harvesting prowess.  Xin looks around at her crew in the crowd. Today she had six kids from the high school, three of whom she already knew, and three she will now count as new fast friends – nothing bonds a group like a hurricane harvest. She learned that as a freshman the first time she worked one of the crews.  Besides the kids, there were two retirees – a wiry older women with an agility and strength Xin admired and a gentleman who was telling stories now about his life as a kid on a rural farm, who would have guessed – he had a career as an academic and college president, but was now retired and finding his way back to the farm. The rest of her group were young professionals, who seemed very happy to be out in the mud for the day, though watching how they moved now, they were going to really feel the pain tomorrow. I hope they can work from home tomorrow, Xin thought. They deserve a day on the couch after this.  Maybe we’ll have a storm day too.  Just then her science class buddy emerged from the crowd holding a steaming cup of soup – for her!  They are loading up the vans Xin.  I think we are in the same neighborhood, let’s go.

Xin scambles to find her skateboard and follows Xavier to their ride. Talk about a perfect ending to an exciting day!

Winter

Looking out onto the street in the early morning, she drinks in the muffled quiet of the city street. Ah, snow, she muses. I love riding to work in the snow!  Funny to say that, she knows. Years ago such a sentiment would have been unthinkable, especially coming from a dedicated cyclist.  The city laid out below her window is quiet and bright, the sun sparkling off the fresh whiteness. With the advent of clean cars, the snowdrifts now stay white for weeks not hours and that fresh clean quiet of new snow lasts.  Even the engines of the big rollers are muffled by the falling snow.  All vehicles are equipped with high traction tires, so they can navigate slowly over the packed snow.  The streets are rendered useful to other travelers as well, cross country skiers and, even the occasional sleigh, now use the streets along with the busses, taxis and the still popular private cars.

Leaving her apartment building in the morning, she stops around the corner at the café, for a quick latte. In the summer the café has a window on the street, a ride through for cyclists, but today it is too cold to drink outside so she wheels in and waits in the biker lane for service.  Fresh OJ is offered even in the dead of winter because of the local greenhouses. “Dead of Winter” no longer feels like such a season of deprivation. Early on, when the locavore movement started, people thought it meant no citrus in winter and only turnips for dinner. This morning, the cold bite in the air, contrasts with the steamy warmth of the café and the tart sweetness of the fresh juice. Ah, she thinks, the best of both.

Coffee downed, she heads out into the cold winter day, bundled in her riding gear, she remembers, thankfully, that all downtown offices now offer showers and lockers so she can change before her big meeting this morning.  The narrow snow covered swale along the wide sidewalk, delineates the bike lane and leads to the broader greenway about two blocks over, Tracing the same path as the storm water from yesterday’s snow melt, she is soon on the greenway’s broad bike path. Ever since the priority of cycling became a part of city policy, city crews have plowed the bike path almost as quickly as they clear the bus routes. The wide greenway allows for lots of snow storage and she marvels at the strange ride along the dry clear path lined with steep sides of snow and shaded over by the bare branches of the arching elms high above. Am I really in the city? she muses.  Certainly this is not the city she heard about from her mother, who described the harrowing rides in the old city fighting for the narrow strip of space left after dirty grey snow was piled up on the sides of city streets.

“>Crossing the highway overpass, she glances between the dry, vine-covered trellises to see the traffic, buses and light rail surging by in the canyon below, The snow laden bamboo is bent over in the median strip, and below the bridge the slight hum of the wind turbines can be heard as they capture the wind turbulence the traffic generates and turn it into electricity.  As she enters downtown, she slides up onto the elevated inner-city bike lane. This is her favorite part of the ride, as she zips over intersections without stopping and glides along outside the second story windows of offices. She waves at a friend as she passes their mini terrace on the elevated way.  Below pedestrians, sheltered under the arcade formed by the bikeway, are looking into the shop windows.  The elevated bike way is always the first path to be clear since it was built with pipes in the lightweight concrete deck that carry solar heated water. It makes the path clear and safe and by the time she arrives at the office, her bike has shed much of the snow and water it had accumulated. Still, I’ve been needing a tune up she thinks and chooses to slide down the ramp at the corner to street level.

The city’s best bike shop, Dutch Bike, is across from her building, and it has become the center for city cyclists. The cyclists were formed into a powerful political group years ago when the shop was first brought to downtown and they were instrumental in getting the segregated bike ways to be standard on city streets. Seems now like every street corner or plaza has the new bike racks and the green and purple bikes of Dutch bike are everywhere.  The shop sells every kind of bike gear at every level from the snob racers with their imported Japanese and swiss components, to recycled basic bikes.

“>The company pioneered the free bikes program that is now in evidence all over the city. Since fewer people ride in the winter and snow, the shop toda is filled with the basic bikes.  People donate their old bikes and the shop fixes them up and paints them a screaming green. These are loaner bikes and are set out around the city for anyone to borrow. Based on a system in effect on some college campuses decades ago, the Dutch Bike Co. refined it into two levels of loaner bikes. The green bikes are available to anyone who has registered with the company and pays a small sliding scale fee per month. Then when they see a bike they want to borrow, they text in and are given the combo to the lock.  The bikes are free but hanging on to the bike with the lock requires that you keep the bike in the system. If the bike you borrowed doesn’t show up locked again, the network knows and charges you for the bike. The purple bikes are the older and more beat up bikes and they are just out on the street for anyone to use. Notoriously hard to lock through some clever design feature, they circulate freely among the residents of the city.

Bike racks are everywhere it seems. Innovative designs utilize blank walls to provide hanging racks under cover, every major building’s lobby has a space for bikes out of the weather, and the transit stations have what seems like millions of bikes in their multistory bike garage.  These days it is the cyclists who feel like they are the “king of the road”.

In a few minutes she passes the steamy windows of the great block-long greenhouse built on top of the city market.  The warm moist air smells sweet and she warms at the idea of the peppers and fruits growing inside all winter long.  Must remember to pick up some fresh carrots on the way home she notes.  Two more crossings, high over the streets and she arrives at the office, and enters directly into the building at the upper floor, wheeling her bike to the bike locker in the lobby and heads for the showers.  Some mornings instead, she wheels down the ramp found at the building corner and stops at the newsstand on the way into the main entry.

At her desk, she is bathed in the low light of a winter morning.  Because she is working on building design she sits in front of a large bank of computer screens at a curving desk. She feels like a navigator in some old sci-fi movie.  Adjusting the blind at her window she allow in the light while reducing the glare on her screens. The daylight gently falls deep in the room bounced against the high white ceiling by reflective light shelves. As she works she looks up to notice the changing color of the light as the sky outside goes from bright blue to grey and back again. I hope it stays clear for my site visit she mutters to herself. She looks at the time and then turns off the message function on the side screen – no time for distractions right now – I’ll get the news later.  The explosion of instant message and news feed technologies had led to a complete clutter of what is still quaintly called the desktop of her computer system.  Only after more recent brain function science proved that people cannot process multiple feeds of information effectively and need focus to be fully creative, did the systems start to offer various modes for quieting the “noise” and helping people concentrate on given tasks.

“>She looks around the room and is amused by the variety of work styles she can see even among her small group. Jamie is always plugged into music while she works. George keeps his area absolutely neat and clean and only pulls up one drawing or view at a time.  Manuel has a quiet bubble in effect around his area, but the visual clutter is astounding, until he has a flash of inspiration and he pushes the clear button and then works on a totally new drawing surface.  The light and temperature is adjusted by each person. Some of her colleagues don’t even keep a single station, preferring to roam about the lounge areas with their personal computers.

“>Because of the site supervision appointment, lunch today is a hurried affair. Barely time to stop up to the cafeteria greenhouse on the roof to grab a salad and fruit juice and enjoy a deep breath of the moist warm air.  The café serves all the offices in the building and is a great place to connect with other designers, engineers and other professionals. She does note that the Christmas poinsettias are coming into bloom lending the café a brilliant red light. Soon she will buy some of the poinsettias for the dining room at home. The orange tree has fruit and the bright citrus smell perfumes the space.  Christmas has always meant poinsettias and oranges. When she was little, she would get an orange in her stocking from Santa and her mom had explained that it was a traditional treat from the days when oranges were a rare winter luxury. When she was a child, they were easy enough to get since they were flown in from Israel and Central America everyday. No one calculated the cost to the environment of sending fruit all the way around the world by plane and truck.  Now they are grown locally all year, in more limited numbers so the harvest is special once more and even better – she can smell their blossoms and watch them ripen in time for the holidays.

This afternoon, she regretfully will abandon the bike to travel to a more distant job site using one of the company car shares.

“>After lunch, she dashes next door to the garage to collect the shared electric car she uses for trips to the job site.  Outdoors for a moment she breathes in the bracing cold air, almost like the dip in the frozen lakes after a sauna, she thinks, savoring the contrast from the moist warm air of the greenhouse.  The wall of the garage has the look of a snowy shroud.  The branches of the vines that climb up the building are covered in snow creating a lacy glistening effect as the low sunlight attempts to crawl into the garage interior. At the center of the garage, oddly the daylight is brighter due to the use of light-pipes bring sunlight directly down from the roof. She find her car at the charging station, enjoying the fact that the fully electric cars always get the best spots.  She pulls it off the rack and it unfolds opening up enough space to fit two passengers and a small cargo. She places her small computer on the passenger seat and tells the car her destination. It twirls on its axis and begins to maneuver out of the tight garage.

As she pulls out onto the city streets, she marvels at the calm of the city in the snow.  I think I like the city best in winter, she thinks.

When the rain falls, the city breaks into a musical chatter, the drumming of the rain on the awnings, windows, solar panels, greenhouse roofs, but when it snows, everything is quiet. The precipitation falls noiselessly and as it blankets the ground wraps everything in a muffling blanket.  Traffic slows and those noises recede. Even the scraping of the old fashioned snow plows has been replaced with the quieter rollers that pack down the snow on the roads, leaving white roads that take days to darken since the vehicles are no longer spewing dirty carbon.  The golden sand that gives grit to the streets creates a “yellow brick road” look.  The transit system gears up and most people leave their personal vehicles at home in preference for the speedier and more reliable convenience of busses and rail.  Immediately the municipal work crews, the same folks who manage and harvest the parks in season, set about clearing and sanding down the sidewalks. The poisonous salt of the old days is no longer used. The continuous tree lawns that beautify the streetscape and provide drainage in the rain also leave space to stack the snow when necessary.

Just as the mountain snow packs are essential for replenishing the water supply of the region, snow in the city has come to be understood as a resource not a bane. Two feet of snow sits stilly on the green roofs of the tall buildings, providing another blanket of insulation for the interiors.  As it melts and drains, the overflow is caught and stored in cisterns to be used in the drier seasons.  The buildings with pitched roofs and large sloping solar arrays shed their snow load down onto the “rain gardens” at the base of the buildings.  From there, the snow pack melts into the retention system built for storm events.   At street level, packing the snow on the roadways, rather than plowing it into huge piles, keeps it in place to melt over time into the swales and complex drainage systems that handle rainstorms.  Streets, parking lots and highways are all designed to accept large areas of snow along their edges and in their planted medians.  During extreme snow periods, the outdoor landscape is transformed from open plazas and café areas into a series of distinct rooms and passageways through the banked snow piles.  The pale sunlight is magnified and directly to the streets and narrower pedestrian passageways by big solar mirrors, making the most of the winter sun.  With the reflective piles of white snow everywhere, sometime the winter afternoon seems to glow rather than to darken.

“>The newest solar technologies in this city have certainly disproved the old concerns that northern latitudes could not make good use of solar energy. Every roof top is adorned with some shiny solar application and the new innovations mean that every south facing façade is also making power or heating water. Solar panels for hot water are integrated into the balcony railings of the residential buildings and the solar films on the commercial office towers turn the windows into power sources, out in the band of single and two family housing, the roofs look like conventional metal or shingle roofs, but all are generating power for the households.  Every large flat rooftop is full of panels that rotate to catch the best angles of the sun, looking at times like they have spikey haircuts twisting toward the sun.

Moving down the street it is impossible to lose one’s orientation. The large windows and solar panels brighten the south facing building facades, the panels track the lower angles of the sun and keep generating power all season long.  Like photo-tropic flowers they seem to lean out to catch the last afternoon rays and to soak them up and amplify them, bouncing light down into the streets below.  How fun, she thinks, that the building walls so eloquently express our winter yearnings for the sun.  In the heat of the summer they will instead act like shutters shielding the interiors from the direct rays and keeping everyone cool inside.   The buildings that face north are characterized by tall, well-insulated windows to keep out the cold and catch the most reflected light from across the street.  In the winter, with their sashes closed, they play the straight man to the more animated and exuberant partners across the street.

Down the center of the wide avenue runs the dedicated bus lane. Because the population relies heavily on public transport, the transit system is designed to remain functional even in heavy snow. The bus lanes are plowed first and kept clear, by the plows and rollers that fit directly onto the vehicles themselves. Circulating ground water elements keep the tracks warmed and keep the trains running in all weather.  The many covered sidewalks and bus stops keep the pedestrians out in all weather.

Generally in a big snow, a spirit of adventure comes over the city with cafes offering discount hot chocolates to shoppers and dinner specials for anyone working late.  A few snow days are planned for in the school calendar, more for the celebration than because it is too difficult to get to school. The school yards are filled with snow forts and ice skating and sledding where the hills or drifts provide the space.

The yearly winter festival is tied to the first big snow, with planned and spontaneous celebrations, performances and contests filling the plazas and parks of the city. A cross-country ski race takes place in the greenway, skating demonstrations and hockey games occur on the lakes and in the larger fountains.  Retail shops compete for the best snow and ice sculpture awards.  Two of the favorite celebrations of the year happen in the winter and snow is always welcome for these events: The Christmas holiday retains it focus on gift giving, although the excesses of the late 20th century have been replaced by a tradition of more modest exchanges, with a focus on children giving presents to their elders in appreciation of all they do for them.  The shopping season is festive though, with specially lighted streets and lots of evening events in the streets downtown, Cafes stay open and serve cider and hot chocolate, and caroling has become a huge tradition with different choruses and singing groups signing up for certain spots for free evening concerts. It is reminiscent of college campuses with their arch sings, around every corner there is a song breaking through the crisp cold night air.

The extensive network of greenways through the city are transformed in the winter into a kind of wonderland, with high walls of plowed snow, long trails packed down for cross country skiers and cleared paths that allow the cyclists to continue to maneuver through the city.  Along the way are fountains frozen into skating ponds, sledding areas, and forts kids have carved from the drifts.  All under the tall canopy of the arching elm branches.

As she leaves the edge of the downtown and crosses the agricultural fields of the green belt farms, she shifts the car into manual drive. The car knows where to take her, senses the location of the other cars on the road anticipates traffic signals and is alert to pedestrians activity, so she could simply sit back for the ride, but she enjoys driving and reasserts her right to control her speed and choose her pathway.  The GPS will keep her form getting lost and let her know exactly how much time the detours are costing her but she likes to vary the route and see some of the suburban areas along the way.

She is traveling to a school building her firm is renovating.  They are upgrading the efficiency features and reorganizing some of the spaces to reflect new attitudes toward teaching kids in the ages from 9-12.

“>For years now, they have grouped kids by interest level in small collections of 5 and 6 kids with different groupings associated with different projects and learning pathways. The kids are closely mentored by the teachers, and by ‘real world” experts in the fields they are studying, but they do all their own research mixing online resources and hands on projects.  The concept of matching up these shifting groups was initiated when the algorithms for addressing learning style, age interests and academic levels could be fed into complicated schedule and subject requirements. Now the kids look forward to middle school as a moment when they move into increasingly varied and complex social groupings and challenging, self-directed problem-solving.

This approach is reflected in the architectural design and her job today is to review the effectiveness of new acoustic materials that let the groups work in alcove like settings without disturbing adjacent groups.  As she enters the building from the small parking lot, she smiles at the immediate contradictory impression the place creates of order and ebullience at the same time. Several small groups are using the sun-filled entry atrium as a kind of workshop – one group of 6 girls who look to be about 11 years old, are giggling as they test a model boat they are constructing for an engineering challenge.  A wide pond sits below the skylights and, as the architect knows, acts to control the climate and reflect light in the interior of the building. But for the girls, the lily pond, surrounded by ferns and home to fish and some frogs is just a natural part of their school environment.

A group of similarly aged boys are working on a mathematical puzzle on the carpeted wide platform stairs peering together at a laptop screen where their calculations are playing out.  Another group of mixed ages and genders is harvesting the swamp grasses at the edge of the pond for a science experiment. From where she stands near the bottom step she can see six different project teams working industriously, with sprinkles of hilarity, it like a beehive she thinks – chaotic at the first glance but somehow all proceeding with an internal order. There are adults throughout, some working closely with a team, others floating to offer advice as needed.  The buzz of activity is not loud or disruptive so the acoustic design appears to be a big success, and the alcoves allow the kids to focus on each other and their topic without leaving the big bustling space.  The proper classrooms are used for group discussions and usually have a large table to sit around, sometimes those classes are at lunch time modeling a family dinner conversation on a single topic.

She moves down the hall to meet with the buildings systems manager. He has brought in a group of older kids to participate in the meeting, having recognized the learning opportunity to meet the architect and discuss how their building functions to create and consume energy.  The kids report on the data they have been collecting and collating from the sensors around the school.  The west side room are staying warm in the evenings which is good for the adult classes reports their designated spokesman, but the food service staff is having trouble keeping their greenhouse warm enough. We wondered if adjusting the solar mirrors would increase the heat they get? The discussion goes on for 45 minutes and she has to admit hey have some impressive suggestions. She promises to send a recommendation to the manger and come back next week to check on the results.

The visit has been a welcome break form the office but it did mean missing tea. That is her favorite time of day in the office, when the changing light of the afternoon prompts the interior lights to come on, slowly acknowledging the diurnal rhythm of the day. Ever since the company went back to its owner’s English roots and brought back afternoon tea at that hour, she has enjoyed rather than dreaded the late afternoon. Such a sensible custom, to acknowledge that the body’s rhythms hit a slow time in the afternoon and need a little warmth, calorie infusion and a social break. Teatime has become the unofficial meeting time, when everyone leaves their desks and computer screens for a bit of “face time” catching up on each other’s projects and news.  She has sometimes thought watching the office “wake-up” to the changing light that the building and its occupants have a kind of choreographic relationship, the brise-soleil/light shelves twist to track the low winter sun, the lights begin to turn on, the staff seems to stretch in unison and slowly people get up and move around to collect around the tea cart with its hot brew and tantalizing collection of pastries from the bakery downstairs.  In the summer when the light lasts long into the evening, the open windows bring up the smell of the afternoon baking and that triggers the migration towards the tea table.

When I get back I’ll call Jakob and see if he can go out for dinner tonight she vows to console herself for missing Tea.

Restaurants thrive in the new city for every appetite, cultural preference and budget.   Because of the higher density of housing and the diverse population, the city can support a great variety of establishments.  Most have relationships with local growers to supply them and people are happy to pay local businesses for the added value of prepared food.   The guaranteed markets and range of greenhouses allow growers to experiment with specialty produce so the system encourages diversity and experimentation keeping up the population’s interest in food and eating out.  The variety of restaurants means the streets are active late into the evening, which in turn makes the neighborhoods safer and more desirable as places to live.

Back up in the office after dinner to collect some belongings and to get the bike to take it home on the bus, she and Jakob lean out from the third floor window, and look down onto the glistening sidewalk to watch the theatre-goers in their fancy clothes stepping off the curb into taxis and wandering down the avenue to the late night cafes.  The patrons pour out of the theatre into streets brightly lit with LED. The sidewalks glisten from the melting snow in the lights, high above the pedestrian zone the sky quickly darkens, allowing the stars to shine.

The pedestrians seem to be illuminated by magic, as if they were now on stage because the streetlights beam down on them like stage-lights focus on the actors.  No light spills up to glare in the upper story windows. The animated voices drift up to the open window.  Turning her gaze up to the night sky, she thinks the starry sky is a mirror for the sparkling theatre marquee below.   In the distance, the interesting shapes of the skyline towers are illuminated against the dark night sky. Each building has to petition the city for the right to use even the high efficiency lighting and the city awards rotating rights based on design merit.  So the city residents are treated to a changing skyline and a theatrical anticipation each month as to what the city will look like.  Lighting efficiency has boomed since the competition for wattage was set up, with new designs and strategies for creating memorable images while not wasting energy.

Looking back to the street, she follows the ballet of late night stragglers as movement detectors light up their paths across the streets and into the small parking lot by the theater.  How silly that in the old days the lot would be lit all night long when no one was anywhere near it.  With all areas of the city home to residents, the safety issue has long been addressed by new lighting and alarm techniques and even more by the oversight that residents maintain by looking out their windows.  The problematic noises of the city have been reduced by improvements in the design of engines and equipment. Now the noise out the window is the chatter of pedestrians in the evening and soon the early spring birds in the morning. No longer hermetically sealed into their apartments and offices people have a better sense of what is happening on the street outside.  Stargazing has come back as a pastime and many of the taller buildings in the city are outfitted with telescopes for amateur astronomy clubs.

She turns to Jakob, shall I ride home or grab the bus with you, she asks.  He checks his phone for the schedule. The bus will be here in five minutes, let’s catch it, he suggests. They grab her bike and head down to the corner stop. When the bus arrives, just on time, they load her bike quickly onto the rack at the back with a few others and settle in gratefully for the comfortable ride home. What a rich day it’s been, she thinks, looking out the window at the snow starting up again.

Spring

Living downtown seemed illogical at first to the young parents of twins, but the apartment building with its deep south-facing balconies, rooftop farm and easy elevator access won over Mathias and his wife Louise. Now he takes his coffee mug and steps onto the patio and opens the extra large windows that convert it into a green house during the winter months. The fresh damp smell of spring floats in on the breeze, redolent of spring show- ers and the blooms to follow. The dappled light filters through the bright chartreuse green of the new leaves. On the sixth floor they are looking out into the top of the trees in the courtyard below. Purple crocus and yellow daffodils are blooming in the window boxes. The strawberries are starting to come up too.

Suddenly a small boy, with curly dark hair and bright eyes races in and grabs him by the legs –Hey Buddy, look at this, he lifts the toddler and holds him up to the see the bird’s nest in the high branches of the maple tree. A red- breasted robin is tending his nest just a few feet outside the balcony. The boys love to watch the activities of the squirrels and the birds just out of their reach. Over the season each of the tree dwellers will be attributed a name and a personality. Next week, they will remove the window panels and the patio will become a screened porch, play yard and tree house all in one.

Max has squirmed out of his father’s arms and turned his attention to Margo, the new bunny, placidly chomping on her salad in her pen next to the com- post bin. She gets the pick of the leftovers before they are turned into fertil- izer for the planters of herbs. Time to plant the spring vegetables next week, he thinks. Just have to make sure Margo can’t harvest them prematurely.

Suddenly Theo, a fairer version of Max, with reddish hair and a quieter tem- perament, emerges from behind the hanging laundry, precariously holding one of the two family cats. He sets her down next to the litter box – a small contraption that harvests the methane from the pet waste and puts out just enough heat to warm the rabbit quarters all winter. Matthias picks up the toy trucks, tosses them casually into the brightly colored toy bin and grabs both boys by the hands, Time for the park, he announces, AND, I think its going to RAIN! The boys slip out of his grasp and gleefully tumble after each other racing for their boots.

He loves that his work gives him a day and a half off a week to be with his kids. Louise’s job at the hospital has a similar accommodation and they alternate, each staying with the kids a day or tow a week, and together they cover three days a week. The other two days they go to the community day- care center at the library, where they have a grand time with other kids. The daycare centers also brings them into contact with their elders through the many retirees who volunteer at the centers.

They leave through the courtyard so the boys can check on the workshops that use the ground floor of the building. Omar and Chelsea, the cabinet- makers, are loading up a truck with a new pine table. The smell of the wood chips and varnish drift out into the courtyard through the open giant double doors. Next to their shop, the Ruiz brothers repair all manner of engines and electric motors. The whirring and whizzing of the machinery always draws Max into the shop but there is no time today if they hope to get to the play- ground before the rain starts to fall.Getting the twins past the corner store with its array of enticing snack food is always a bit of a project, but at least it is all healthy, not the way potato chips and soda were when he was a kid. The late 20th C. epidemic of obe- sity transformed the “junk food” industry – somehow they have managed to preserve the illusion that it is still junk so as to attract the kids, but in fact it is all healthy, whole grain chips, dried fruits, and natural sodas.

The stream of busses and taxis in the downtown core stop at the corner light and he easily maneuvers the double stroller across the raised crosswalk which signals to the cars and busses that pedestrians come first in this city. Even Matthias’s mother Marion, who sometimes takes the kids out, has re- ported that the ergo-dynamic stroller and the street design mean that she can manage the twins. It is only two blocks in either direction to a park – one is a quiet sitting space under the big trees with one of the many fountains that grace the city. Today they head for the active playground on the edge of the bigger greensward park that splays its fingers into every neighborhood. The playground is packed with innovative equipment designed by the local art and engineering students to inspire a fascination with the elementary physics of cause and effect.

While he pushes the kids on the merry-go-round they watch excitedly to see the lights powered by their spinning. Jumping on the bouncy mounds forc- es water jets up in the adjacent flower garden, and a complicated contrap- tion installed against a long retaining wall takes a tossed ball and drops it through a long series of reactions to the endless delight of all ages of kids.

An older couple is walking their dog. They pause at the canine pit stop – a sand pit with posts in it. They pick up the messes with their degradable bag and drop it in the Poop Power methane composter, the public version of the home contraption. This always amuses the boys who sing a poop-power song they made up whenever they get the chance. Many things change, chuckles Matthias, but kid humor seems to stay the same.

When the rain finally breaks it startles their play and the three retreat to the jungle gym under the park canopy and standing in the muted light, they watch the raindrops drizzle across the glass roof and gather in the down- spouts and fill the rain barrels. On a dry day they will come back to water the flowers using that store of water. Now, with the moist air cooling their faces, they watched transfixed as the rain pours down and the play areas shed the water. The downpour stops as suddenly as it began and in moments the play areas become dry islands among the swales and retention ponds. The sudden spring storm works a transforming magic that makes this a favorite place of theirs.

A spring shower is something to be celebrated, not a cause to give up a trip to the park. Matthias stoops down and teaches the twins how to make boats out of sticks and leaves and they launch them and watch them float down the swale streams toward the ponds that appear throughout the park like magic as the water fills over the grasses. One sunny day and the water will all be gone again and they will roll in the grass where today they watch their tiny fairy boats capsize.

The pond lets the water sink into the ground and return to the aquifer that supplies the region’s water supply. He can remember a time when the play- ground would have been designed to “shed” the water, channeling it across impervious surfaces and into gutters and storm drains, washing all that pre- cious rainfall out to sea. How silly the old ways seem now. The swales that catch the water are bright green after a rain, providing cool grasses, water- ing the street trees, and sheltering tiny creatures of great interest to two young kids.

Remembering that he promised to take them fishing at the river next week- end, he pulls out a cardboard soup container and sets the kids loose dig- ging worms for bait in the muddy swales. Sure beats the old concrete curbs and gutters of before. Good thing he put on their rubber boots.

It is raining again when they choose the route home, through the shopping district where they can walk under cover for several blocks, stopping in the stores and loading up the carriage with groceries.

In storms the water pours down on the city washing every surface clean and bright, creating a symphony of sounds. The drops hit the smooth shiny surfaces of solar panels and slide down oversize downspouts into under- ground storage tanks, wash across stone plazas into carefully designed channels, to expanses of green planting beds engineered to hold water, clean out pollutants and return the water to the ground. Busy pedestrians can keep walking the city streets watching the waterfalls, sheltered under the continuous arcades. The big trees lining the avenues seem to breathe more deeply, soaking in the rainfall, protecting the spaces underneath until the storm reaches its peaks and the water finally breaks through the giant canopies. As the street darkens in a storm, the glow of streetlights automati- cally increases, turning the rainfall into a glittering lightshow.

People hurry down the street, pushing their covered grocery carriages, stay- ing under the arcades, keeping their feet dry in clogs along the impercepti- bly canted sidewalks, where puddles are never seen. An older woman with her shopping cart huddles under the brightly lit bus shelter, that sheds water into a cistern that irrigates the vines covering its roof. The new wheelchairs, first designed by a Iraq war vet, have built-in umbrellas, their bright colors glowing against the rainy day, and the puddles that once collected at the base of every wheelchair ramp are gone because the street crossings are all at sidewalk level. The cars must bump up and down instead of the wheel- chairs and baby-carriages.

The water sheets across the streets and fills the green verges that mark the transition from roadway to sidewalk; these are bridged several times a block for safe (and dry) pedestrian passage. Narrow channels line the small streets and wide green medians run down the middle of the avenues and all are engineered to handle storm surges. The cities fountains fill up, marking the water rise for all to see. The banks of canals likewise swell to handle the temporary increase in water. No dirty water runoff from streets ever reaches the rivers or seas. All is caught, cleaned and recycled. City dwellers value the rainwater. Every neighborhood has a network of dry wells designed to catch and keep extreme levels of rainfall. Even in a hurricane, only a small percentage of rainfall is ever swept out to sea.

Water treatment

Years ago, a big storm would mean that sewage was dumped into the rivers and the ocean. For the younger people, that is equivalent to the days when horses and their manure filled the streets. The idea that once storm water and sewage water were treated together is nonsensical to them, as now each has an extensive and transparent treatment process using greenhouse tanks and wetland systems. Similarly inconceivable is the idea of chemi- cal treatment to create clean water often then dumped into the sea. Every schoolchild has visited these facilities and their adjacent bird sanctuaries.

Matthias and Louise visited an elementary school last week to check it out for their kids. Because the park system of the city is also the water treatment system, it weaves through all the neighborhoods, even the dense downtown ones, and the elementary schools can all be located in the parks. They were a little concerned at first because this school is adjacent to a sewage treat- ment facility.

A large percentage of human waste is composted now before it even leaves a residence or workplace. By the time it is removed from a building it is a valuable fertilizer not a noxious waste. The municipality circulates two sets of waste removal trucks, one for separated recyclables, one for waste fertil- izer and compost. Non-recyclable non-compostable trash is incinerated for energy, but those plants are being phased out since there is so little of that trash nowadays.

Many of the larger new developments were built with their own mini sewage treatment facilities- various innovations have drastically reduced the volume of water to be treated and the incorporation of gardens and composting in each complex has encouraged the evolution of new cheap and clean tech- nologies. The waste streams have been separated out in the new buildings and the grey water irrigates the roof-gardens and greenhouses. Waterless urinals and low flush and composting toilets cuts the water use from gallons to cups and it is easily treated using living machines. The water treatment centers look just like the other greenhouses that cover the roofs of many of the downtown buildings.

Near the school though, the larger greenhouse that treats the outflow of an older neighborhood, sits at the edge of a cascading terrace of wetland pools. By the time the treated water flows through the system it is clean enough to nourish the natural ponds. And when it reaches the end of the cycle, it is totally potable. Because the elementary school studies the cleansing pro- cess with the school garden; the children come to understand the entire set of natural processes. In addition, the school benefits from the abundant wildlife that live in the wetland pools. During class the children draw pictures of the herons and hawks, fish and frogs they can see from their classrooms and gardens.

Max can expertly identify the distinctive kinds of trucks the city circulates to collect waste. Blue for separated recyclables, brown for waste fertilizer and compost. Once a month, the blue trucks sport red flags while they collect non-recyclable non-compostable trash to be incinerated for energy. Those plants are being phased out since there is so little of that trash nowadays.

Lunch

At a kid friendly café, Matthias pauses before lining up the carriage wheels with the grooves in the steps and pushing the carriage up the four stairs into the café. The space is filled with parents and babysitters with pre school age kids. The widely spaced tables and rubber-tiled floor allow the carriages to maneuver easily. He spots their elderly neighbor with her shopping cart at a table nearby and smiles at the thought of a helpful passer-by who must have stopped to give a quick shove to her cart to get it up the grooved steps. This simple inexpensive innovation has allowed the café owners to repur- pose the old industrial warehouse into an accessible neighborhood hang out. Even the bikes wheel right in.

“>Hot Mac and cheese for the kids, made from local cheddar, reminds him that they plan to take the kids to see the cheese making at the farm next week. The kids love to pet the animals, watch the cows get milked and especially chase the chickens around the yard. That farm has the most tolerant chick- ens he’s ever heard of.

Across town On the patient floor at the hospital a few blocks away, Louise notices the storm coming as the light changes at the nurse’s station. Looking up, one of the nurses scans the skyline, watching the dark clouds approach. As the rain begins to fall they feel the refreshing damp breezes through the open windows, shielded by the overhangs that double as light shelves, bouncing the daylight deep into the building. Just as the wind turns and the water starts to hit the windows an LED signal alerts the staff to close up before any- thing inside gets wet. With a touch of a button the windows crank closed. Meanwhile the plants in the patient’s window boxes soak up the extra water gratefully. As the rain increases they can see the window box overflow filling up to store the water for a drier day. A patient in a wheelchair returns to the dayroom from tending the flowers in his window.

The ward is quiet, and peaceful in the rain. The tapping gentle drumming of the rain on the overhangs creating a “white noise”. Louise remembers how noisy and chaotic hospitals once were, with patient’s doors always open, TV’s blaring and equipment beeping. It’s a miracle anyone ever got better, she reflects. Now, nurses monitor the equipment directly with their beepers so as not to disturb the other patients. With private rooms and headphones for watching movies, the ambience is restful and recoveries are quicker. Louise notices that most of her patients are resting and she looks up at the clock and thinks of her boys – everybody’s having naptime she muses.

Naptime After lunch the kids are quiet, drowsy and full. And still a bit muddy. He wheels them home quickly and after some quick wiping down, puts them down for a nap in their bunk beds. He draws closes the shutters on their big windows, leaving the casement windows open a crack for the soft spring air to circulate through their dreams. Ah now, perhaps I can get some work done, thinks Matthias, as he closes the sturdy soundproof door.

He fills the crock-pot with vegetables and starts the dinner stew cooking, then remembers to put away the worms still in the stroller. He then retreats to his “office” to check in with his co-workers. In this small corner of the apartment are floor to ceiling bamboo shelves, stained a warm pecan color, matching the floor. They are lined with old-fashioned books, while a bank of drawers hold more contemporary data. A brightly colored handmade hook rug defines the area and a small monitor in the upper corner, over his desk, lets him see the boys sleeping in the other room. No kid toys allowed here, though a few of Theo’s bright sketches are taped to a shelf. A bank of screen illuminates when he comes near and several projects show up. In the center is a view of the lounge at the office and he can see what his co-workers there are doing, Hi guys, have I missed anything? He asks of the screen and one of his colleagues looks up and replies, only a new client. He pulls up the bright red swivel chair, rests his feet on the desk edge and gets down to work – Tell me all about it, he says as he starts to go through the mail stacked up on the screen.

Dinnertime: At home, dinner is also fresh and healthy, as the whole interest in food pro- motes home cooking as well. Long ago, it was established that the best predictor of kids’ success in school was whether they eat dinner as a family, and dinner gatherings are a priority in many homes. Even those working long hours can dine together since the cooperative urban kitchens provide easy to heat up fresh healthy meals for affordable prices. Add a few pota- toes from the balcony garden and some herbs and a healthy and delicious meal is ready.

Louise is home from her job as the nutrition advisor at the hospital by around 4:30. The boys have woken up and are playing on the patio smashing up the trucks Matthias put away earlier in the day. Some things don’t seem to change over the generations muses Louise when she comes in. She finishes the dinner prep while Matthias keeps working. She calls the couple next door to check on their plans for the evening, since she is hoping to get some quiet adult time tonight.

When the family sits down to eat, the dinner is ritualized but hardly formal, since getting two small boys to sit still is too much to ask. It is however one of Louise’s favorite times of day. The dining room bay juts out of the building next to the patio and forms a column like stack with all the other dining rooms for the apartments. Looking out she can see the other families preparing their tables and coming together for their meals. It is almost like a big community picnic, she thinks, each of us at our table but all supping together. The boys wave excitedly across the courtyard to their friends on the other side.

After story time, Louise’s turn since Matthias had the boys all day, the boysare tucked into their cozy bunks, whispering softly about frogs and salaman- ders. Louise takes a glass of red wine and proposes to Matthias – Mark and George will listen for the boys – we could go up to the roof for a bit. The neighboring apartment has a connecting door to theirs and its solid construction keeps the units private, but it does allow for a great babysitting deal. Matthias can hook them up to the same monitor that appears on his screen and they can watch and listen for the boys from next door. And we will be just upstairs, she continues.

They exit the elevator onto the roof lobby. The big open room is designed to hold large parties and anyone in the apartment house can sign up to use it. Tonight in the middle of the week it is quiet. Mark and George use the space for their singing group’s rehearsals once a week, and Matthias has suggested they sign up to have the boy’s third birthday there next month. Right now they walk out the double doors onto the “porch” a covered trellis, just coming into bloom. The pungent scent of the lilacs is intoxicating mixed with the damp sweet spring air. The city lights are coming on, illuminating the skyline, and the stars are just starting to come out. They take each other’s hands and walk out into the farm garden, strolling between the rows of newly turned damp dark dirt, planted with lettuces and corn. The spicy jalapeno peppers and cilantro line one patch while bok choi and pea tendrils are peeking up in another. The spiky stalks of the raspberry bushes are just turning green. Matthias is especially grateful for the genetic breeding that produces three crops of raspberries all summer long. They walk the perim- eter of the U-shaped building. Looking out over the furrows and down onto the tree tops at the same time, Matthias remarks: you know the boys think this is totally usual, to be in the treetops and down on the farm at the same time, but I still think it is really fun.

I love the smell of spring, she replies, squeezing his hand. The Fishing expedition:

This city was known to have been one of the founding sites of the first in- dustrial revolution, when small mills were built along the river to capture he power of the waterfalls turning the big wheels that powered the primitive spinning machines and looms to weave cotton and wool. The behemoth brick buildings still stand along the waterways, converted many many years ago into workshops and housing, shops, and offices. They stand as remind- ers, to those who bother with the local history, of an era of industrial devel- opment and mass employment in rote physical labor. It amazes Matthias to think that these huge buildings once held hundreds and hundreds of people, young farm girls and whole families, kids included, all standing and doing the same 3 or 4 tasks for 12-16 hours a day. Now they are beehives of activities with hundreds of small entrepreneurs, designers, mini manufac- turers, all experimenting and looking for new ideas. Each strand of activity learns from the proximity to other, seemingly unrelated, endeavors, creating new, unexpected synergies and inventions. Ideas are the looms of our time, he thinks.

For half a century, the mills stood empty, hulking silent and sad. Even after they began to be repurposed as housing, the river suffered the effects of the dams, with the fish stocks depleted, their migrations and breeding patterns disrupted. Now his favorite spot to take the boys is just below the fish ladder that circumvents the first historic dam. They sit in the shadow of the original mill building from the 1700’s carefully preserved as a symbol of the regions history, and let out their lines. On a Saturday morning, a dozen others are fishing in the same spot, some quiet and apart, concentrating meditatively, others gregariously bragging about last week’s haul. The river has been restored to health and the fishing is good for the recreational anglers.

Matthias’s father had been a fisherman, weathering the long drought when the stocks of fish were so depleted from over fishing that bans on strict regulations on the catches were imposed and many of the old fishing fami- lies lost their livelihoods and their connection to the sea. Eventually the fish did come back, protected by the regulations and ironically by the return to old-fashioned fishing technologies. The huge commercial vessels were re- placed by smaller, more adaptable, boats with high-tech gear. The men and women who still plied the sea could find and catch their quota in a fraction of the time it took a hundred years ago. The higher prices the wild fish bring make it worth their while. The appetite for fish was partly met by the sophis- ticated fish farming operations, once the problems of overstocking, using antibiotics creating imbalances in the ocean ecologies were solved.

Now the wharves are again crowded with small fishing boats, in the early afternoon when the boats come in. And the market is humming with patrons and restaurant chefs jostling househusbands for the first view of the fish as they tumble off the boats. When the market managers switched off the piped in music and video advertising that had been built into the market shed by the developers there began a revival of the old fashioned sing song hawking. Now deep baritone voices call out fresh lobster, mussels here and higher sopranos, mackerel and cod. The tables display the glistening irides- cent colors of the fish, laid out in rows, pink and red in one row, blues and green in another. The pier is lined with restaurants and the sous-chefs just wheel their selections back to their kitchens in rubber-tired carts down the middle of the brick paved streets.

Summer

“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.