For the last few months, I've been pondering a little incident in New York City. It was Memorial Day Weekend, and I was playing host to Felix, a friend from Mexico who had never been to the US. I'm not in the least a New York City guy, but this is my country. Felix had hosted me at his modest home in Oaxaca State, and now he was attending a United Nations conference of indigenous peoples, so I felt privileged to go to New York (by train, of course!) and show him around a little.
We had walked up Fifth Avenue, past imposing buildings, classic churches, and crowds of weekend tourists, to Central Park. I had been looking forward to sharing the park with Felix, but after ten minutes or so, he asked to go back to the streets. "I have plenty of trees where I live; I didn't come to New York to see more of them," he said. Of course, like any good host, I acceded to my guest's wishes and headed with him to the nearest park exit.
Felix and I had a good visit, and we both enjoyed the scenes of the city. We rode the A train all the way to Far Rockaway and basked briefly on the boardwalk by the sea. But his remark about the trees stuck in my mind like a bit of fiber caught between my teeth, and it wasn't until this morning that I was able to work it out in the shower (where my best thoughts often come!).
Felix grew up and lives on a rugged mountainside, cloaked in majestic trees. Right outside his family's front door are a coffee tree and a cacao tree. The scene is spectacular, uplifting, inspiring. Making a living there is tough, and they're isolated by lack of transportation and rains that turn the hillside into a slick mud-slope. Felix had to carry 50-kilo bags of cement on his back up the hill to build his house. I can understand why he doesn't totally "appreciate" the beauty of his spectacular mountainside retreat, and enjoyed seeing what it was like to live in a place where streets are level and well paved.
But I still felt disappointed that he hadn't spent more time in Central Park. It was certainly logical that he didn't want to "see more trees", and I couldn't understand why I felt let down.
Today's "shower insight" was this: you can't truly understand a city if you don't see - and appreciate - the parks along with the "concrete canyons". This is particularly true of New York City, where Frederick Law Olmsted began his career in park design, and with it brought the concept of green spaces into the heart of American urban design. In so many ways, Central Park is the "heart" of New York City, without which the totality of the city can't be appreciated. I feel the same way about Seattle, the loveliness of whose Freeway Park comes to mind often when I think of that city.
To me, the skyscrapers of a city are impressive and the trees are beautiful, but it's the sight high-rise buildings through the trees that brings me a true sense of awe. The contrast of the natural with the man-made is what expresses the full humanity of the city. Each without the other is insufficient for our needs. Humanity cannot reach it fullest potential living in a forest, beautiful as it may seem. Nor can it attain the heights of its capacity in a "concrete jungle".
I guess that's what I wanted Felix to see. I'm just sorry it took me so long to express it.
PS - I've decided not to blog more from the Moving Minds conference. There's another day-and-a-half, and some of the topics, like transportation security, are beyond my scope. I'm sure a few more good ideas are will to pop out, but I'm also sure the majority have surfaced. Now, on to action!