As a parent, I consider it my responsibility to expose my kids to an abundance of activities in the hopes of finding one that “sticks.” For my eldest two sons, it was pretty simple and they gravitated to a couple of sports quite magnetically. The youngest brother however… not so simple. Vastly different than the older two, finding his “thing” aka passion, has been a challenge. Nonetheless, it’s a task that I’m up to.
Thus the reason why two days ago I drove 45 minutes in 5:30 pm rush hour , weekday traffic to try horseback riding in Nobelton. Sports, didn’t “stick.” And after he seemed to have fallen in love with a horse named Oreo on a summer trip to Montana last year, we thought we’d give it a shot. And so after programming the address into my navi system (while not a true digital native, I find myself like many others, losing the skill of self-direction these days) we headed to the stables.
With winter approaching, the dark crept upon us quickly and Hwy 400 started to slowly take the shape of what I call the “coca cola” wave with red and white lights glaring on either side of the barrier. I was alone in my frustration, of course. When you’re 7 years old, rock, paper, scissors, DJ’ing with apple radio and a competitive round of karaoke with your older brother can get you pretty far, pretty painlessly. But everything has its limits and I was soon faced with the infamous question “Are we there yet, Mommy?” Glancing down at my siri-supported navigational skills, I regurgitated our ETA… every two minutes. Until that is, they stopped asking and managed to “self-solve.” My older son excitedly screamed to his little brother, “Look! We’re closer! I can tell. Do you want to know how? Look! There are no buildings. We’re in the country now… close to the horses. Close to where we went apple picking.” And that belief, that exact way of thinking, is a new generation… and as described in the New York Times last month, it is exactly, “The kind of thinking Cities need.”
At eight years of age, he’s drawn a clear boundary between urban and rural, and like the rest of his generation, will strive to keep it that way and preserve our resources. Cities are where we live. Together. A lot of us. And he, like many others described in the Times, has “embraced urban ideals, including the common ground of public spaces, mass transit, streets and sidewalks.”
The article summarized Michael Kimmelman’s experience at the UN global cities summit on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development called Habitat, held in Ecuador last month. It’s described as being “to urbanists roughly what Comic Con is to Trekkies.” The summit released a manifesto – new urban agenda – to drive city growth over next two decades.
Kimmelman, an architect critic by trade, noticed a vast difference since the summit originated 40 years ago, and his description of the feeling that he walked away with, was what struck me. Somewhat of a self-declared perpetual student myself, I’m all too familiar with the feeling that conferences and expo’s can leave you with. It’s that indigestive concoction of frustration (and a small teaspoon of disappointment) because of that sinking feeling of all that you have yet to do, mixed with and a generous sprinkle of inspiration, in the hopes of all that you can do. So I was immediately struck by the sentiment that Kimmelman shared he felt at the event. “Heartened.“ (not prefixed by a “dis”)
That’s what happens I suppose, when you’re immersed in a crowd that he described as “young and idealistic” and representative of a generational shift. The “defeatist” attitude of cities and urban life that was present 40 years ago had left the building (pun intended). It was almost a 180, or at least nearing one. Rather than a forum that focused on improving the rural world, and convincing one another that “a brighter future beckoned in suburbia,” cities are now almost “the golden child,” that you invest in, keep safe… and brag about. It’s not universal though, and Kimmelman drew attention to the other kids in the sandbox that “remain in thrall to obsolete, environmentally irresponsible, socially debilitating visions of high-rise and highways, sprawl and segregation… and gated communities.” He cited Mexico as an example. That being said, Habitat itself, doesn’t walk away unscathed. There are criticisms, of course. How couldn’t there be, when you’re working on a global initiative?
That’s okay. Things worth fighting for are seldom an easy win. And while we, as a city, seem so far ahead, in comparison to others, we are always continuing to learn and to try to do better. Despite our tremendous successes, we have our own battles that we continue to fight. Our Chief City planner Jen Keesmaat for example, recently made the argument for more resources so that we can continue to ensure that the “neighbourhoods interests are put first.” Neighbourhoods that kids like mine (and likely like yours too) want to live in.
Kids that bear a similar burden to the Millennials that have gone before them, and labeled by generations before them as being too indulged, given too many choices, and too connected to their devices. Ironically, as for the latter, Kimmelman cited that it is precisely the connection to the internet, that is allowing these “kids” from are around the world, to bond, embrace urban ideals… and to do good. For those of us willing to look deeply enough, we see millennials doing everything they can to ensure that they don’t do to their children, what we did to ours.
Kimmelman saw that. He saw their appreciation of investment into transit and infrasturucture, and a shared mission of wanting to protect our resources. Reassuring.
Particularly when the media portrays them in a different way. A way that magnifies their YOLO (aka careless and selfish) take on life. (Why pay for maintenance fees for a roof repair when I don’t know if I’ll be here in 25 years) and (I’m never owning a home and making a long-term commitment.)
Kimmelman talked about a generational shift. It’s true. But there’s also a personal shift that I’ve witnessed in many people. My own parents, for one example. The shift from a house in Thornhill (built my my father in late 60’s) on a dirt road, from which we had to drive everywhere… to a walkable, vertical neighbourhood in the city. In his own lifetime, he’s “shifted” and opted for city living. As have his kids and grandkids.
The boundaries will continue to shift in the right direction. My son’s current boundaries have him living in the city while apple picking and horseback riding in the country. As for apple picking, we can fill that void by hopping on transit and getting his hands dirty in one of the growing number of urban farms sprouting up in our city. ( He’s also fallen in love with bowery project which he has a personal connection to.) And as for the horse back riding? Well, no – to answer his question – we’re not getting a horse for Christmas – we’ll be heading back to Nobleton… this time on the weekend.
(For Sunnybrook stable fans – lessons don’t start until 9 years old. We tried 😦 Nobleton turned out to be worth the drive – they’re amazing!)