I just got back from a very fun weekend in New York City. My 15-year college reunion took place over the course of three days at Barnard College. I could not help but go. I saw friends that I had lost touch with and had a wonderful time catching up and seeing how much the campus has changed.
There was a time when I used to visit every year, maybe even a couple times a year. Not anymore. Too many obligations now keep me from running off to play in the streets of Manhattan. I mention this little mini-vacation though because my reunion with Barnard and Columbia alums was also a reunion with New York City: my, how it has changed in the last 15 years!
I remember rowing on the Harlem River with Columbia Crew, rollerblading through Central Park, and snowboarding in Riverside Park (we had a ton of snow my first year in college). I also remember riding my bike…EVERYWHERE. Up to the Bronx, down through Washington Heights, whooshing through Hamilton Heights and Harlem, Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side. It seems that if I wasn’t in Low Library or Lehman Library or sneaking off to Bobst Library downtown, I was careening through the streets on wheeled transport risking life and limb the way only a teenager can. I remember once being uptown, turning a sharp corner and ending up on a freeway with no shoulder. I had no recourse but to pedal as fast as I could, pray to make it to the next exit alive, and hope for better signage on the streets that would prevent such a mistake from happening to me or anybody else again.
Back then I felt like I was the only bicyclist alive. (I may have indeed been the only bicyclist at Barnard at that time, heaving my bike up into the Quad or 116 every day). I made my own paths through the city and managed to keep at bay those college pounds that tend to creep on due to meal plan and late night Famiglia Pizza gripe sessions.
It felt good to go back to my educational origins and find that although New York City had always been walkable, it was now highly bikeable. Bike lanes are everywhere.
This seems to represent a cultural shift that has been embraced by the people and politicians of New York. I saw lots of organic take-out joints, smoothie shops, and yoga studios as well. A holistic version of health. And bicycles. LOTS of bicycles. Large and small, retro and modern.
It is always good to see a city embrace health. It means it is embracing life. Looking into the future and shifting what it has known as tradition and molding it into a contemporary version to make sure the city, and its inhabitants, continue to thrive.
I wish I could say the same thing about Atlanta. The shifts that have taken place over the last 15 years since I studied at Spelman College during a domestic exchange program between our two colleges, seem to have mostly meant rampant commercial development that has left a surplus of commercial real estate, suburban sprawl, and increased obesity rates. Nary a bike lane in sight downtown. Bicycling here reminds me of what it was like to bike in New York City circa 1994: fun, but ultimately dangerous and unappreciated.
What will it take to encourage a shift in Atlanta that will embrace the future of its citizens by supporting our health while improving our city at the same time? Individual business owners like us can put in a bike rack in our store and outside our store as we did on Peters Street, but in the grand scheme of things it isn’t much.
I am curious if the transportation referendum live up to its objectives? Will it help make our downtown more walkable and bikeable, thus encouraging people to get out of their cars and move? Will it encourage more people to live in the walkable communities Intown as opposed to subjecting themselves and their families to insane commutes? Or will a well intentioned idea tragically not pass at all, or worse yet, pass and get eaten up by bureaucracy and inertia? I guess after July 31, we shall see if Atlanta is ready to embrace a brilliant future or head down a path that leads to cultural stagnation and declining health.
© 2012 The Boxcar Grocer.