Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Miss Boulevards

In the community where I grew up (and the community where I lived from 2001 to 2010) residential streets all had boulevards.  Your front yard would go down to a sidewalk and then between the sidewalk and the street would be a strip of grass with trees planted at intervals between the driveways.  This community does not have these.  And I miss them.

Boulevards are a blessing. In the winter they make snow shoveling easier (both by allowing one to pile snow on both sides of the sidewalk and by providing a buufer to keep people from driving on the sidewalk and packing the snow down before one can clear it).  They make street cleaning more effective because plowed snow can be piled on the boulevard without blocking foot traffic or needing to be hauled away.  Year round they make it safer for pedestrian traffic, particularly children, by keeping them farther awayfrom (and less like to stray onto) the street.

But more than that boulevards, in my opinion anyway, have a civilizing effect on a neighbourhood.  THere is a far different feeling to walk down a street with grass on both sides of you and trees shading the path than there is to walk down a street where cement and asphalt just run together.  In a mature neighbourhood, where the trees have grown tall (and in my experience boulevard trees are generally deciduous so you have the canopy effect rather than evergreens with branches reaching out all the way up the trunk) it almost gives a park sensation in a way.  A community which mandates boulevards is making a statement about green space, about priorities.

It is my belief that developers don't like boulevards.  They take up space, even that 4 ft width adds up over a few blocks.  ANd that means fewer lots can be fit into the same area.  Knowing how much prime farmland has been lost to urban sprawl I can have some sympathy for making best use of urban space.  Some residents grow resentful over boulevards.  They feel that it is unfair to be responsible for the maintenance of the grass on city property.

But on the whole I miss boulevards.  They make a city more livable somehow.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book 2 of 2012 -- New York

When I was a teen I went through a phase where I read many James Michener novels.  ANd I found that I liked that historical epic novel style.

As an adult I discovered Edward Rutherfurd, whose works are the same style.  The first of his that I read was Sarum, about the area around Salisbury in England.  New York is the first novel of Rutherfurd's I have read that is set outside the British Isles (though not the first he has written, as he has one about Russia).

The historical epic is an interesting animal.  The author has to decide how to balance historical detail with the fictional detail of the story.  And has to do so in a way that the story works without doing violence to the facts.  When well done (and I am sure that these authors do some pretty good research) they are a joy to read.

I liked this book (as I expected to).  It may end up being a bit of a love song to the city --something I have noted in Rutherfurd's other works-- but it names some of the less lovely aspects of the history.  In this book we mainly follow one family's line from the Dutch era through to the Epilogue set in 2009.  Over the course of time there are other families who appear, disappear, and reappear.  And in a nice piece of bookending the first chapter and the epilogue both speak of freedom--one of the holy grails of USan culture.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Family Day

Today was Family Day.  Alberta was the first province to have this February holiday, although many have followed the lead (Manitoba actually calls the day Louis Riel Day to honour their Father of Confederation but it still follows the logic of "we need a holiday weekend in February").  In Alberta the third Monday of February has been a "sort-of stat" [in that workplaces had the choice of taking this holiday or the civic holiday at the beginning of August so it was not automatically adding in another day off to the year--largely to appease the business lobby] since 1990.  For example, we had mail delivery today.

Mind you in Alberta all stores are allowed to remain open on a stat holiday, and most choose to do so.  Is that a Family Day activity?  OTOH, I hear about more organized Family Day activities now then I remember when I last lived in the province 13 years ago.  So maybe the idea of a holiday to get families together (unless one or more of them is required to work of course) is catching on.

LAst week I read this article.  It speaks to the mixed message of family day in an economy that so often pushes people into workaholism.  It also questions how family friendly Alberta really is--without even getting into the question of why the richest province in Canada has such an abominably high rate of child poverty.

So is Family Day all hype about the importance of family with little to back that up in the rest of the year?  After 22 years I am still not sure.  ALthough I do remember a degree of suspicion that Don Getty was using the holiday as something of a distraction from other issues when he first announced it.

But I did avoid working today.  And even when I went to the church to do a bit of stuff the girls went with me to "help".