Friday, 18 April 2014

The Quality of Space

This weekend, after over a year and a half of waiting, the Velo Family has returned to one of our favourite Cascadian cities, Portland, Oregon. Making the trip down via rental car, thanks to some driving credit left over from our car trouble on our West Coast trip at Christmas, we got into Portland in the wee hours Friday morning. Excitement of course meant our children were up bright and early, despite Chris and I getting a mere six hours of sleep, so a slow paced day was in the cards for our first day in Portlandia.

We started and ended our day in the lovely square
A slow paced, easy day for us still meant lots of walking, doing the loop from our apartment near Pioneer Square, through to the Pearl District, down to the Waterfront and then back home. As night came, we sat down in Director Park, a lovely open square at SW 9th and Yamhill, to enjoy some hot chocolate and let our kids run around and burn off the last of their energy. Watching them laugh and play in such an inviting space made me recall that this is how we spent most of our day - sitting in public squares enjoying the scenery while our children ran around, chasing water in the fountains and just enjoying a well built public space.

Quality public spaces are something that I've come to really appreciate during our travels. It seems we always manage to find them, and they end up becoming a central part of our visits. It's actually something we miss in our own hometown of Vancouver, where green parks off the beaten path are common but a good public gathering place in the city centre is hard to find. 

Our kids messing around in Jamison Square just 
before lunch
The importance of a great gathering space cannot be undervalued. A central place, near cafes and restaurants and with tables and chairs provide people of all ages a place to sit outdoors and enjoy a a midday snack, meet up with friends, or, in our case, relax while doing a little sightseeing. They are also very welcoming for families, many times creating an environment where kids from all over the city and beyond join together in the freedom of play, and possibly even make a new friend. Of course, water features are always a welcome addition, meaning endless hours of fun for children, and a refreshing place to cool tired feet for the older "kids". Most importantly, though, is that these quality public spaces are free to anyone regardless of age, race, or economic means, which is what truly brings a city and it's people together.

Tomorrow we set off on more crazy adventures, likely of the two-wheeled variety, and I am certain that we will find even more spaces to relax as a family, if the weather cooperates. Our travels in the nearly eight years of being a family have taken us to some fantastic cities, all of whom seem to understand the value of building gathering places for their citizens and visitors. I am thankful to be afforded the opportunity to enjoy these open, welcoming spaces with my family, and for the fond memories created each and every time
A midday run at the Tom McCall Park along the riverfront

Monday, 7 April 2014

Something Old Turned Something New!

After spending over a year commuting through the alleys of East Van and then along the sidewalks of two of the busiest roads, having dust debris fly at me from passing transport trucks, I’d had enough. Also, with the inevitable desire to shape up after a less active winter, I wanted a commute to work that lasted longer than ten minutes. So instead of moaning, I changed it up and tried something new, at least new for my commute. Instead of alleyways and sidewalks, this morning I travelled along the 10th Ave and Mosaic bikeways to the separated pathway along Great Northern Way, on a route that took me past my destination before heading back along a much less travelled and almost secret separated pathway. The change up added a mere 10 minutes to my journey, but I experienced some big rewards for my efforts.

First off, it's always fun trying something new, and while part of the trip is one I'm very familiar with, it was still fun to figure out the most effective way to get to work, and exciting to guess which streets to take to get me back on a bike path and the last stretch of my journey. In a way, I became an explorer, mapping out new territory, which I find very enjoyable.

While I was on my way, I was reminded of riding with a friend a couple weeks back, and introducing him to a bike route he'd never taken before. One thing I forget when I'm out with friends who frequently ride is that there are routes that I take for granted, just assuming everyone who rides a bike in the city knows about them. But we all choose different paths to get to our destinations, and more often than not, if you never travel to one area or another, there would be no way to know about other options. My friend shared that same excitement I had today, discovering a new way to get from point A to B, and, in a way, opening up a whole new world of cycling opportunities.

Although finding a new route was very exciting, even more enjoyable was the smells I encountered along the way. As you can imagine, travelling along busy, high traffic roads can be a pretty unpleasant olfactory experience. By sticking to the calmer routes along my journey, I was treated to the beautiful smells of fresh cherry blossoms, springtime blooms, and the overall freshness of a Spring morning. In the same way that I thoroughly enjoy running my hand through tall grasses I pass in the summertime, having all the wonderful smells rush past me during my commute was just the best way to start the day!

So, overall, not a bad way to start a Monday. A new week beginning with a new route, and a wonderful reminder of why riding in the springtime can be so fantastic. I'm sure, after months of taking the same route to work I will eventually start taking for granted this new trip, too, but for now, I will revel in my morning commute, taking in all the new scenery, fresh smells, and even the passersby along the way!