Update: To everyone who read the first draft of this post, I’m sorry about the confusion. I have changed the title because, as my Houston friends have pointed out, Houston is very much a city, just a whole different kind of city than the one I find myself living in now. I guess I just got carried away with noticing how far out of the “Rice bubble” I’ve gone. I never saw these sides of Houston because I mostly traveled in cars and walked around Rice’s manicured campus. It’s a big change and in trying to show that to the people who can’t be here with me in Toronto, I went a bit too far. The original post is still listed here below this update. I hope it inspires discussion about what a city is and isn’t and how its funny how we sequester ourselves off in different areas, forgetting that there’s a whole different world just a few blocks away. Discussion, not stupid arguments.
I don’t think my past four years in Houston counts as living in a city any more. Not really. True, there is a large downtown section. True, there are plenty of big businesses and the population has skyrocketed to match that of other American cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But after moving to Toronto, I don’t think Houston qualifies as a similar location.
Mainly, this rests on public transportation. In Houston, the Metrorail is helpful, but it only goes back and forth in one direction. Only one small strip of the city is truly connected in a fast and relatively cheap way. It doesn’t even connect the city or the medical center to one of the biggest commuter destinations, the University of Houston. Even with the Metrorail, most people drive their cars to and from work, or from the suburbs in to the nearest end of the Metrorail line.
But Toronto has lots of public transportation. It’s going to be my lifeline to get from home to school, from home to the theater/entertainment district, from home to almost anywhere in the city. It’s expensive to have a car, to have to pass it over the border, to buy a parking permit, to insure it. I know there are problems with the Toronto Transit Centre, as with every piece of large government infrastructure, but at least it does connect me to every important place I need to go.
I’m not adjusted to it yet. I feel so odd, so urban carrying my bag to the stop, showing my pass to board a subway car or bus and then navigating the social situations of finding open seats and preparing to exit back to the streets. I have to change my ideas of groceries to what I can carry on my back or in my arms for the five to six blocks back to the cupboards and refrigerator.
I like all these changes. More walking, less mindless driving. More mindful shopping, less needless spending. More interaction with my neighbors, the ones who live nearby and the ones that share my commuting path, and less isolation in separate cars and highways. Even still, it will take a while for the newness to fall away from these experiences. Because Houston did not prepare me.