Friday, June 18, 2010

Leaving a City


Cities (and towns and villages) are each unique in some way, which has always mystified me because in my view, all cities are very much the same.  The city will offer the same diversions, variety, and businesses that every other city will offer.  To a person who is willing to explore and find the best in a place - the unique cafes, the local designers, the nicest bars and micro-breweries - there are few cities on this planet that do not have something great to offer.  This, I think, is because no matter where you go, there are interesting and creative individuals who are willing to take risks on their dreams of owning a chocolate shop or japanese paper store, and they make cities and towns more vibrant for their courage.  By virtue of this, I think that each city is the same in its uniqueness.

This makes me wonder why it matters where we live to us.  Some cities are going to have better social networks for us; Geneva had a poor social network for me, and my friend's latest locale had little support in place for her and her lifestyle.  She managed to find the best it had to offer, and as a very small city it was a challenge for her to do so.  It still didn't offer her the network of like-minded and like-lifestyled people that she wanted.  The ability to find those groups is crucial, regardless of what size of town you live in.  Some cities are going to be in the right part of the right country for us to be close to or far away from family, some cities will have the right career opportunities, some will have the right climate.

And mysteriously, despite their sameness, some cities are just going to be better to live in than others.  "The liveable city" is something that urban planners and city dwellers equally strive for.  Finding open green spaces, places to grow gardens of flowers or veggies, and keeping a city calm enough that people can feel like they're not crowded in on top of one another can be difficult.  This makes me think of places like London or Manhattan, where the population density is impressive and makes me quite sure that I wouldn't like living there for too long.  It would be quite stressful.

Some cities seem to have managed to meet the challenge of balancing lifestyle and function.  I think Montreal is one of those cities.  Paris is another.  San Fransisco and Vancouver are also in that group, and from what I hear, Berlin and most cities in the Netherlands have it down pat (the Dutch may very well have invented the liveable city).  Despite the fact that these cities are still very much the same as so many other cities - even within the small list I've just given the similarities between them start popping up in my mind before the differences of region, culture, and particulars - there's something special about each of them that makes their citizens convinced that THERE IS NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH THAT IS GOOD TO LIVE IN.  NOWHERE.

I admit to being one of those citizens.

But really, what is it to live in one city rather than another?  Why do I think that it is such a tragedy to face the possibility of leaving Montreal for another city, perhaps a larger city, perhaps with more to offer in terms of music, food, cafes, designers, chocolate, parks, and funky neighbourhoods?  I could start listing off all the things that Montreal has that other cities don't, but that is not the point.  One could do that with every city, I am very convinced.  There's just something about the city that makes the possibility of leaving Montreal seem particularly heartbreaking and inconceivable.  Whatever it is, it's the thing that all of my friends who live here or have lived here find so attractive and addicting, and it's the thing that makes me say that I'll move back to Montreal some day in the future to wander the familiar streets and neighbourhoods, to lie in the familiar parks, to breathe the familiar St. Lawrence river air.

So why is leaving the city on my mind?  Well, it turns out that life is annoying and brings changes to your doorstep right when you least desire and expect them.  I have been applying for jobs outside of Quebec, and Drew has applied for schools outside of Quebec.  It turns out that Drew was accepted to the University of Dundee (Scotland) for an MSc in Human Anatomy, and he is going to go.  I don't have a job yet and we don't have an apartment here.  I've been saying all along that if I have no job in Canada then I will find a way to get to Scotland with Drew.  Colbert is a bit of a snag in that plan, as he can't come along without a quite complicated series of vet procedures and documentation.  Finances are another, as I'd have to have the cash to go along and get plane tickets.  Fortunately I am a Scottish citizen, so working is no problem - provided I can find a job.  Dundee is a very small city full of students.  The competition for jobs would be stiff, I think, and Scotland doesn't exactly have a booming economy.  These are my musings, the things I think about when I imagine relocating to Europe for a third time, this time longer than the previous times.  Drew's program is an entire 12 months.  Could I handle that after so recently returning to Canada?

But if I don't go to Dundee, where will I go instead, and why does it even stress me out?  If Drew isn't around, one place is basically as good as the next.

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