Last weekend was the greatest time I’ve ever had. I married the love of my life in a beautiful ceremony, reception and after-party that highlighted our love, and our love for our city of Rochester. While it was a day I will never forget, it was a day made possible by a spontaneous meeting on the street six years before. While I’ve written about the awesome power of cities and their ability to bring people together, this story is one that personifies just how personal that belief is.
Six years ago, I met my beautiful bride for the first time. It wasn’t at church, at work, at softball or a social event. I met my wife by chance. I had moved back into the city of Rochester after decades of living in the suburbs. I was born in Chicago so I always had a love for city life, but I honestly never thought MY city could be what it was becoming. Just like so many young people today, the draw of centralized living and an increasing urban vibrancy made me believe it was time to engage my Rochester again.
In trying to embrace urban life, I decided to ride my bike more often. A mile here, a few miles there, only when I knew it wasn’t going to rain. I even learned my bus route and watched a YouTube video on how to put my bike on the front rack of the bus. I didn’t want to be that first-timer, fumbling with the contraption, holding up a bus load of busy transit riders! When I finally did it for the first time I was secretly giddy and proud.
Biking was becoming more and more a part of my identity. I biked the 6 miles to work a few times. I picked up groceries by bike here and there. I made the small trips and occasional runs and left my car behind more and more.
On a beautiful and warm fall day a half dozen years ago, I visited some friends living near Rochester’s Neighborhood Of The Arts. I can’t remember the moment I decided to ride instead of simply taking my car, but that choice turned out to be one of the most important ones I’ve ever made. After spending time with friends, I was pedaling home when I heard my name to my right…
I glanced over and recognized a couple friends of mine on the sidewalk, along with someone I didn’t know. The light in front of me was green and I had the opportunity to give a wave and speed through the intersection in pursuit of home. Instead, I wrapped my right hand around my rear brake lever, pulled to the side of the road and stopped to say hello. My friends stopped walking as well, and we met up on the sidewalk. They were heading for an event and decided to get there on foot.
After a few seconds of conversation, one of my friends introduced me to her roommate Amanda, who’s adorable smile immediately caught my attention. Like me, Amanda had also just started to embrace city life. Also like me, she was a budding photographer, and after some time, our mutual love for the visual artistic medium became the soil for our relationship. Six years later, the rest is history… or rather, the rest is our future together.
Imagine for a moment that Amanda and I had both decided to take our cars that day instead of walk and bike respectively. Imagine we lived in the typical residential development, miles away from anything, with the car as our only transportation option. Imagine I saw my friends from behind the windshield of my four-wheeled bubble that day and waved as we both sped through that green light, not stopping for fear of holding up traffic. Imagine Amanda, riding along in their back seat, just a random passenger in a quick and meaningless encounter that negated the potential to change our lives. The choice to travel by car that day would likely have robbed us of an eternal friendship, a beautiful relationship and a new marriage.
My love for cities and my belief in their power, their ability to bring people together and maximize the potential for personal and creative encounters and experiences is not just lip service. It is not just a millennial stereotype or a hipster illusion. It is not a liberal construct or a starry-eyed urban dream.
It’s personal. It’s experiential. It is in the realization that my life has improved since I made the conscious decision to embrace city living once again… To leave my car behind, to open myself up to a world of connectivity and chance meetings, and to meet amazing people I would never have had the opportunity to see otherwise.
The Urban Phoenix has become a huge part of my life and what I do. And while facts and data fuel the urban conversations that are so critical today, my conversation always begins and ends with the personal relationships we have with our cities, and how those relationships open the doors to so many opportunities that have the potential to change us for the better and forever.
So why do I love cities? Why do I advocate for cycling and walkability? Because last weekend, I married the love of my life… a love that might have been a passing wave from a speeding car on a crowded street. But that day, I chose two wheels instead of four. I chose experience over speed. I chose the bright sun on my skin and a light autumn breeze against my face instead of a prefabricated interior. I chose to open my eyes to possibilities beyond my goals and controls.
What I saw was my future, and it was beautiful.