I moved to Cambridge, UK for grad school. Since it's a fairy tale village, there are a lot of cool urban/system design and lifestyle features to make note of. Here's Part I of my observations, starting from flying into Heathrow:
That's it for now!
- Where are the woods? Descending over the countryside to London, I searched in vain for forests. When you've got a lot of civilization on a pretty small island for thousands of years, I guess that happens. Canada, be careful! (Also: I find myself getting really homesick for my little Southern Ontario ecosystem when I travel. I miss the tree species and the chipmunks especially. Just me?)
- Better Bussing: Heathrow->Cambridge. National Express makes some huge improvements to Canada's Greyhound terminals. In Canada, they overbook so you never feel certain that you'll get a place on the bus and people line up to get a seat way before scheduled departure. The line snakes for a mile in a noisy, dirty, exhaust filled environment and you spend 30 minutes holding your breath, fending off panhandlers, and nudging your bags forward an inch or two at a time. National Express prevents this with a simple electronic screen in the waiting room that explicitly states, "DUDES. CHILL. Just stay in the waiting area," (my translation) until the driver is ready. They do not reveal the correct bus platform until the bus is actually parked there, and they guarantee a seat (by making it way cheaper to book in advance, they have a better idea of numbers before departure). The vehicles all appear to be under 15 years old, clean and comfortable. In contrast to the terrible logic of the Toronto Greyhound terminal, buses pull in diagonally to face the passenger queues. This means zero people are waiting in a cloud of exhaust or dodging incoming buses.
- A different brand of suburbia. My suburb-o-vision caught a new development on the edge of Cambridge when we were driving in. It was a far cry from super-sized North American standards, but definitely more mass-produced than the inner town. Sure enough, this development has already made it into one of my class lectures about controversial projects in Cambridge. Interestingly, according to my prof, Cambridge suburbs end up housing lower income residents, not wealthy folks looking for a new, updated house. Those who can afford it live in the historic (small) homes downtown.
- Bike safety. You get ticketed by the police if you don't use bike lights at night.
- Pedestrian paths and streets. Despite living outside of the town core, I can walk to a grocery store along scenic, lit paths accessible only to bikes and pedestrians. It's 20 minutes away (apparently a long walk by local standards) but feels like much less because it's quiet and pretty. I believe there is underground parking in the town centre, but motorists probably shop at a different grocery store.
- Stealthy shopping mall. There's a small shopping centre that is so well integrated into the rest of the urban fabric that I can't actually tell where it starts and where it ends. The perimeter stores open onto the street, so there are no gaping parking lots or blank concrete walls to blight the streetscape.
- Climate change policy matters. At my college induction, our head tutor explained very naturally: lights off, heaters low, recycling good, please and thank you. And get this! He throws in a little, "We have a mandate to reduce our carbon emissions, so every bit is important." Imagine that. C'mon Canada.
- Energy wise. Every light switch has a 'turn me off' notice. All of the outlets have an on/off button so you don't need to unplug things like appliances or chargers constantly, just switch it off at the source.
- No enjoyable showers. The showers don't really work so you end up jumping in and out as fast as possible. I think that one is unintentional.
- Everyone bikes, so you bike. There are bike lanes on streets shared with cars.
- Cows. This was the nicest surprise. There's a pasture near one of the colleges that made me dance, but my favourite cow moment occurred while cycling to rowing. I was pedalling along a path in a park by the river and I saw a cow grazing ahead just behind a picnicking couple. At this point, I strained my eyes to look for a wire fence, thinking "odd place for a little cow enclosure." I was ten feet from Bessy before I could convince myself that she was just chillin' - hadn't broken loose, hadn't violated any laws, she just gets to be there. On my way back, the rest of the herd was out mowing the grass for free. Best part of my day.
- Permanent market. There are market stalls every day of the week in the square where I can get local produce and listen to buskers.
- Paucity of dogs. The Toronto to Cambridge dog ratio must be something like 4:1 - it's a tough adjustment. I must now rely on cows to put me immediately and unfailingly in a fabulous mood. I jest, but in some environments dogs really contribute to good community life, not that Cambridge needs it.
That's it for now!