Monday, February 18, 2008

Go Green

Jesus Green, photo from the Cambridge2000 photolibrary

(I figured I should do my own one year anniversary post. I started this entry back in November after a bike ride on a warm, sunny fall day. I decided to finish it Saturday after another great bike ride, albeit on a 38 degree, sunny day. Despite the frigid weather, college crews were racing on the river as I rolled by and owners were throwing sticks into the river for their dogs to fetch. This first bike ride of 2008 reminded me of a key fact about Cambridge and its surroundings--it's so green, even in winter.--JT)

I'm a city boy who likes small towns. I won't go so far as to say I love small towns because I haven't really lived in one--Detroit, Boston/Cambridge (the Massachusetts one), and Washington DC have been my homes. I know I have an overly romantic view of small towns. They have their flaws--hey, we've all seen Footlose. How you can ban dancing?

But I digress. My point is that Cambridge (UK) is about the closest I've come to living in a small town and it agrees with me. The city isn't tiny--for those who keep asking, the city proper has about 110,000 residents, including about 25,000 students--but it is comfortable. I walk most everywhere, see the same people in the neighborhood, and generally feel a sense of community that I have not felt before, despite being an American outsider. Maybe it's all the fairs and festivals that bring the town together so often.

I also told KT the other day it's tough not to grin when you see so many small kids in a place, especially when they're zooming around on small bikes or are dressed in their color-coordinated school uniforms, sometimes with proper hats. Cambridge is full of college students but it's also very much a family town, with a lot of big private and public schools in between our home and where I work. To me that brings life to the city--the condo buildings where I lived in DC had few kids, and DC is hurting for young families who tend to flee to the suburbs once their kids reach schoolage. The same was true in Detroit and in Boston.

So, this all a really long-winded intro to get to my final point: I just had a nice bike ride through meadows and green grass and I can thank some far-sighted urban planners for it.

Most of you reading this blog probably haven't paid attention to the satellite image map in the right column. It's from wikimapia, the same folks who brough you wikipedia, the online encylopedia. Basically, it's a stunningly clear satellite image on which people can mark objects and attach descriptions of comments. I like zooming in and out, looking at the aerial view of things I normally see from ground level normally. For example, when I looked at our house, I noticed the image was taken right when they were starting to build 3 flats--they are almost done (we hope!)

Here's a link to the map that you can open up in a new window (a more zoomed in version focused on Parker's Piece, the lawn a few minutes walk from our house is here)

A quick glance at the large-scale map will show how quickly the city gives way to rural land--parks, grazing areas, and even farms. This is deliberate as Cambridge is one of the UK's Greenbelt cities, an effort to limit urban sprawl by surrounding city centers with area in which no development can occur. London was the first such Greenbelt city, according to a wiki entry, although it's hard to imagine that given how London now spreads out for mile after mile. Greenbelts now cover about 13% of England, notes a BBC explainer.

Greenbelts are controversial to a certain extent. As in Washington DC, there's a desperate need for affordbale housing near city centers and many here argue greenbelts prevent that. Sometimes, after a tortuous process, local planning official will create a new village tucked away in a greenbelt but that has not kept pace with the demand for housing. So, every once in awhile, some government official makes headlines by "threatening" to overturn Greenbelt policies. But call me selfish. That's a politican I'd be motivated to vote against.
-- JT

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