When I started writing six or seven years ago, it was for two main reasons. First, J and I had moved in fairly rapid succession from MPLS to Berlin, back again and finally to Boston (in the first three years we lived together I think we had six addresses or something crazy like that). For the most part we were living in a different place than most of the people we were closest to. In the pre-Facebook world, blogging was a vehicle for all of us to stay in contact, though, unfortunately, few of those blogs still survive. As ego-filled as blogging can be, I do miss getting more than 140 characters of people’s thoughts. Second, I hadn’t yet returned to school, and blogging was my main vehicle for writing. Like many skills, if you don’t write often, you’ll forget how.
For the same two reasons, I’ve been relatively quite for the past two years. After four or five years in Boston, I had developed a new group of friends, ones that I saw almost every day and probably knew more than they wanted about everything I think about everything (as J says, I tend to inform people against their will). And, as a grad student, I had plenty of assigned writing to take care of to keep me fresh.
And now, here I am again. Back in a new city and once again without writing assignments. My friend Siqi suggested some kind of post-graduate group blog project a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if it’ll happen, but I thought I’d do my part.
As in its previous incarnation, the blog will be a smattering of topics, though mostly about the city, with a little film and baseball and travel thrown in, as those are the things I spend the most time thinking about. I’ve also got a few research projects that I’m taking on with a couple of co-conspirators that I’m excited about. I’m sure they’ll bleed out as they develop.
The biggest change for me in the last couple of months is, of course, Houston. It’s a city I never expected to live in, in a state I never expected to live in, in a half of the country I never expected to live in, but it’s grown on me in many ways. When I was living in Oakland last summer, I had commented to a (young urban planner) friend that I was going to end up here after graduation. He said that when he came to the Bay Area he’d been in a conversation with an older planner who said how unfortunate that so many young, liberal, idealistic planners choose the Bay Area and New York to live in. He said it wasn’t those places that needed them. It was Detroit and Houston.
I wish I could take the feeling of moral superiority and say that’s why I’m here, but, of course, it’s not. Honestly, I probably would have been trying to move to Brooklyn or Oakland post-graduation like everyone else. Even knowing I needed to end up here, half of my job applications went to New Orleans, San Antonio and Austin. Luckily, I was able to find a job here (a job I love, by the way, but more on that later), and started settling in at the beginning of July.
Still, it’s a challenging city for me to be in. For one thing, we decided to continue living car-free, a decision that I’m very happy with morally and philosophically, but one that has consequences in a city like Houston. I like to say that we’re car-free like some people are vegetarians. It’s more than not owning a car; it’s a statement about how I want the world to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if a major theme of what I write here ends up being getting around.
A while ago, I was reading an interview with the sociologist Manuel Castells about his move from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He said that for him, the city is a laboratory, and LA was, quite simply, a more interesting experiment (he followed this up by saying “who wants to live in an experiment”, but we’ll ignore that for now). That’s how I’ve been thinking about Houston. It’s an opportunity to think about kinds of urbanism that I wouldn’t have before. And that’s what I’ll be writing about here.