I was talking to my girlfriend yesterday (she is in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship) when I started having a hard time hearing her due to, well, noise. I am not talking about the near hurricane that is bearing down on the northern coast or the cannons that seem to go off every day, nor the church bells going at all hours of the day. I am talking about children.
When I was in Leeds, I lived in a poorer area, in that they tended to be immigrants or multinational working class. They were younger families and typically of Middle Eastern or Indian background. I lived in a semi Uni-owned high rise that had both students and more traditional families and had been renovated with water savings as well as high R-value windows and efficient appliances. It was not directly let from the University, but through another agency. I loved this area actually, for a number of reasons.
One it was 2.5 miles from campus, Ideal cycling distance!! It was lower in traffic than places closer to the university, meaning quieter nights in general and the distance from campus meant a good distance away from the "Otley pub run" students who tended to be out every night until 3am. I could walk to the bus or train stop with multiple connection options. I had access to a natural food co-op(they have not updated the site in awhile) run business about a mile away and there was a local farmers market every month. Not to mention the Permaculture Association of the UK was literally down the hill from me and I could just see them if I looked out the right window.
However one of the main points of why I liked this area, and I know this is a point of contention with some, was the fact that there were kids. They mostly didn’t speak English while outside with friends, but that didn’t matter. What was important, what I miss was and is, children playing. I don’t get that here, maybe I am in the wrong part (I am far out of town) but even when cycling through the city after school is out, I rarely (actually I don’t remember ever) hearing children playing. (During recess and at the university day care does not count)
It made me feel safe, it made me feel content. I don’t know how to explain it or even what it means but all I know is that despite the economic hardship of the area, despite the seediness of some parts, it was alive. The local primary school was just down the road and if I were up early, I would see parents walking their child to school or waiting with the older ones for the bus. They would all come out when any one of the four ice cream men came by on any given day (yes there were four, all different!!)
It felt in a way, what a community should feel like, what a real community feels like. Not one over run with parents who see a predator around every corner, or one were they fear their child will get a bruise or get dirt on themselves, or one where the car takes primary ownership of everything. Taking them to soccer (football) didn't happen, because the game was right in the street, if a car came by everybody would move and the car would come by very slow.
I was not really a part of them, I was a lowly American in their lives for 6 months with little interaction except standing in line for an ice-cream cone, or being that weird guy on a bike every day. That did not matter, that there was life, was enough. That I would be working in the afternoon and look out my window and see them playing and hear they having fun, that made me smile, that was enough.
So many places in America lack this for many reasons and sometimes it takes relative newcomers, sometimes from a different economic bracket, or cultural background, to truly see what we all have lost.
I wish I lived in an area where it was safe enough for kids to have fun outside and play, in a way this is and can be a start to a true livable street. Its one of the many things I truly miss about this part of Leeds.