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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

City places that inspire romance (a gallery of walkability, part 2)

Kaid Benfield

Posted February 13, 2012 in Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably

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  London (by and courtesy of Chuck Wolfe)

  London (photo by Chuck Wolfe) 

There is a reason that romantic movies and novels are set in cities such as Paris, Rome, Prague, San Francisco, and New York.  Or perhaps in picturesque historic towns and villages.  And why they are seldom set in, say, sprawling Tysons Corner, Virginia or on Interstate Highway 610 during a Houston rush hour.

Love can happen anywhere, anytime - that's part of the wonderful magic of life - but the odds are much higher in nature or in a walkable city neighborhood (or both at the same time!) than in sprawl, or while driving in traffic.  So this week, let's celebrate some of the world's more romantic walkable city places.  London, above, has many of them.

                     Madrid (by and courtesy of Steve Mouzon)

                     Madrid (photo by Steve Mouzon) 

Last year at this time, I posted a short essay titled, "What Do the World's Most Romantic Cities Have in Common?"  These characteristics formed part of my answer:

  • Strong sense of place anchored by historic preservation
  • Lively, walkable, diverse downtowns
  • Compact development patterns
  • Extensive and well-used public transportation
  • Great public spaces for lively human interaction
  • Parks and quiet places mixed in with urbanity
  • Great traditional neighborhoods with a strong sense of community
  • Welcoming to people of diverse cultures

   Tivoli Garden, Copenhagen (by: La Citta Vita, creative commons license)

  Tivoli Garden, Copenhagen (photo by La Citta Vita) 

Two weeks ago, to mark my 1000th post as a blogger, I posted "A Gallery of Walkability," drawing from my own collection of photos.  It took me a long time to put that together, but it was a labor of love.  I promised then that I would do a follow-up featuring the work of other great photographers, including some of my enormously talented friends.  This is the promised follow-up and assembling it, too, was a labor of love.

The top two photos above are by my friends Chuck Wolfe and Steve Mouzon, respectively.  I'll say more about them below.  The one just above from Copenhagen, a city whose walkability is legendary, is from La Citta Vita, whom I've never met. I've turned to LCV's photos, which are available for noncommercial use via creative commons license, often because they are so good at depicting the best of city life.

  Market Street, San Francisco (photo by Payton Chung)

  Market Street, San Francisco (photo by Payton Chung) 

I think Payton may be the only one of my photographer friends whom I have known longer in person than online.  His photo above is fantastic.  Read his blog here.

  New York City (photo by Ed Yourdon) 

  New York City (photo by Ed Yourdon) 

Ed Yourdon is like La Citta Vita in that I use his great photos, in his case often of New York City, time and again.

  Paris (by and courtesy of Steve Mouzon)

  Paris (photo by Steve Mouzon) 

Steve Mouzon is not just one of my favorite photographers but also one of my favorite thinkers and writers about sustainability.  His book Original Green deserves to become a classic.  The scene above virtually defines "romantic city place." 

  Tokyo (by and courtesy of Payton Chung)  

  Tokyo (photo by Payton Chung) 

  Amsterdam (by: Claudio Alejandro Mufarrege, creative commons license)

  (Amsterdam (photo by Claudio Alejandro Mufarrege) 

Amsterdam has not only romantic beauty but an approach to urbanism that allows over half of all trips to be made by walking, bicycling, or public transportation.

  Miami Beach (by: digitalkunde, creative commons license)

  Miami Beach (photo by digitalkunde) 

Miami Beach has a lot going for it, including that it is amazingly conducive to a lifestyle based on walking.  The City of Miami may also be headed in that direction, thanks to a new zoning code whose writing and adoption was led by my colleague on the Smart Growth America board, Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, named "public official of the year" in 2010.

  La Promenade Plantee, Paris (by: Fiona Cullinan, creative commons license)

  la Promenade Plantee, Paris (photo by Fiona Cullinan) 

New York’s City’s hugely successful and justly celebrated High Line wasn’t the first elevated urban railroad bed to be converted into a much-loved linear park.  As I wrote last year in a Bastille Day tribute to the Promenade Plantee in Paris, NYC planning director Amanda Burden acknowledges the wonderful French park as the model for the newer one in New York.

  North Beach, San Francisco (by and courtesy of Payton Chung)

  North Beach, San Francisco (photo by Payton Chung)

  Union Station, Washington, DC (by: Pedro Szekely, creative commons license)

  Union Station, Washington, DC (photo by Pedro Szekely) 

I made a point to note in my walkability gallery two weeks ago that a great urban public space needn't be outdoors.  Likewise for one that inspires romance.  This spectacular photo of DC's Union Station shows why.

  Florence/Firenze (by and courtesy of Chuck Wolfe)

  Florence/Firenze (photo by Chuck Wolfe) 

This is another of Chuck Wolfe's fine photos.  If you can't feel a romantic tingle in a magnificent public square in Florence while listening to classical guitar, you may have a problem.  Which makes me wonder about that guy in the foreground.

Chuck is a prolific writer who places his work in The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Cities, the Sustainable Cities Collective, several publications in the Pacific Northwest, on his own blog myurbanist and likely in additional places I haven't discovered yet.  He usually builds his writing around images, most frequently his own.  I frequently use his postings as a starting point for my own writing, as I did in this autobiographical essay on how I imagined cities as a kid.

  Madrid (by and courtesy of Steve Mouzon)

  Madrid (photo by Steve Mouzon) 

And this is another of Steve's.  City parks can add immeasurably to our well-being and can even help spur revitalization of distressed neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, budget squeezes are forcing some cities to reduce their budgets to maintain and improve them.

  Puerto Cruz de Tenerife (by: epSos.de, creative commons license)

  Puerto Cruz de Tenerife (photo by esSos.de)

  New York City (by and courtesy of Jane LaFleur)

  Portland, Maine (photo by Jane LaFleur) 

City markets are great places to take a special friend and enjoy the flavor (sometimes literally) of a city.  This photo is by my friend Jane LaFleur, who directs Friends of Midcoast Maine.  Last fall, I wrote about some of her outstanding work furthering citizen engagement in community planning.

  Monemvasia (Greece) (by: Robert Wallace, creative commons license)

  Monemvasia (Greece) (photo by Robert Wallace) 

I love this photo, of an obviously romantic place I have never personally visited.

  Avignon (?) (by and courtesy of Chuck Wolfe)

  Saint-Raphael, France (photo by Chuck Wolfe) 

This photo evokes a memory of a visit I made to Avignon some time back.  I want to go again.

  Grand' Place, Brussels (by: Vase Petrovski, creative commons license)

  Grand' Place, Brussels (photo by Vase Petrovski) 

La Grand' Place, a World Heritage Site, is without question one of the most magnificent city squares in the world.

  Brooklyn Heights, NYC (by: Josh Libatique, creative commons license)  Copenhagen (by: Niels Andersen, creative commons license)

  Brooklyn Heights, NY (by Josh Libatique); Copenhagen (by Niels Andersen) 

These two photos speak pretty well for themselves, no?

  Georgetown, Washington, DC (by: Dmitri Lyakhov, creative commons license)

  Georgetown, Washington, DC (photo by Dmitri Lyakhov) 

As an unabashed lover of all things non-political about Washington (and some would be surprised at how little the real DC has to do with politics), I may love Georgetown's back streets and pathways most of all.

  Third Ward, Milwaukee (by and courtesy of John December)

  Third Ward, Milwaukee (photo by John December) 

When I announced that I was going to do this gallery, John December offered up this photo of a historic neighborhood in Milwaukee.  There is something inherently impressionistic about historic neighborhoods, because they engage our imagination.  They also tend to be inherently green.  Milwaukee, by the way, hosts a development-in-progress that is poised to become perhaps the nation's most ambitious example of adaptive reuse of older buildings.

                 New York City (by: La Citta Vita, creative commons license)

                 New York City (photo by La Citta Vita) 

This looks like Paris but is really New York.  What a wonderful evocation of romance by La Citta Vita.  I compiled my own bit of homage to a romantic New York City evening here.

  Capital Crescent Trail, Montgomery County, MD (by: M.V. Jantzen, creative commons license)

  Capital Crescent Trail, Montgomery County, MD (photo by M.V. Jantzen) 

I have found no better photographer of the real Washington, DC region than M.V. Jantzen, who wonderfully licenses his work for noncommercial use via a creative commons license.  He also writes an eclectic blog.

I can't tell you how many times I have bicycled through the Dalecarlia Tunnel on the Capital Crescent Trail, shown above.  It must be well over a hundred.  I wrote about cycling last fall.

                Place des Abbesses, Paris (by: La Citta Vita, creative commons license)

                Place des Abbesses, Paris (photo by La Citta Vita)

  Ibeza (by: Trey Ratcliffe, creative commons license)

  Ibeza (photo by Trey Ratcliffe)

In the end, sustainability is profoundly linked to place, and best when linked to places we love (more about that soon).  For me, these photos show why we care when it comes to cities.  Many thanks to the generosity of these photographers in sharing their work.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

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Comments

Chuck WolfeFeb 13 2012 11:09 AM

Hi Kaid and thanks as always. Per your question above, not Avignon, but Saint Raphael...

Keihly MooreFeb 16 2012 09:12 AM

Hello!
I really enjoyed reading your post. I am a Masters student of Urban Design and Architecture. I'm curious in WHAT makes these places romantic...HOW are the spaces the buildings make cultivating romance? What are the physical features that evoke such lovable feelings? Some aspire to build places like this, but more often then not, fall short. Why? Is there a formula to place making that goes beyond the check list approach (ie, walkable, greenery, nice lighting, mixed uses, etc)? Is there something about this "quality that has no name" that C. Alexander speaks of? Is it just the sense of time and collective memory (that, presumably, cannot be built by a developer over a few months?)
I'd appreciate any thoughts you have on this matter. I think its really fun to think about, because there is a bit of a mystery associated with it..
Thanks!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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