As a New Yorker I am very comfortable with urban settings. Still, I like people-friendly urban. Shop windows, whether they display couture or crème cakes; big bold and small intricate architecture; crowded sidewalks (despite my private thoughts that everyone should go home when I’m trying to navigate them!), and of course, anything unexpected or hidden. I pride myself on being comfortable in a variety of neighborhoods: commercial, residential, financial, the garment district, the flower district, uptown, downtown, even (gasp!) the outer boroughs.
So when I scheduled a visit to a school out in the far reaches of Queens, I thought nothing of it beyond getting accurate directions. I would drive, so that my journey home to my own edge-of-the-city community would only take 1 hour instead of 3, armed, of course, with the contemporary conveniences of Mapquest, Google maps, and GPS.
All went smoothly for almost the entire trip, until suddenly, as I made the last left turn onto a busy commercial boulevard and prepared to follow both sets of directions and turn right onto the street where the school is, I discovered to my chagrin that the school’s street was one way the opposite way and I could not make the turn.
The next possible right turn was a dead end street, and an overhead train trellis blocked the possibility of taking the right after that. Anxiously approaching my scheduled arrival time, I waited for the GPS’s “route recalculation” to guide me on. Finally I was advised to maneuver over, take a left turn two blocks later, and circle around. I found myself on a narrow industrial block, gas station on one side, train tracks climbing the other, barbed wire surrounding the railroad, trash in the street, dense overhead wires criss-crossing above, traffic creeping along leaving me feeling trapped in unsightly, unfriendly territory. What an awful place to live I thought. How can we expect children to thrive in these surroundings?
With mounting apprehension I followed the next set of directions; coming back down the boulevard from the other direction and passing the wrong-way one-way street, I took the next possible left – and entered another world entirely. It was positively bucolic, the sounds of the busy boulevard gone within a few yards. There were small, neat houses with well tended yards, trees in flower, birds singing sweetly, spring perennials in bloom. By the time I reached the next corner and parked, I could have been 100 miles from the industrial dread of 3 blocks away. The walk to the school was short and delightful, the school itself bedecked in front with flower pots full of tulips and friendly parents chatting together, collecting their children.
Cities have always held the possibility of differing wildly in character from block to block, but this was the most dramatic change I had ever seen within such a short span. My anxiety ebbed in the face of this reminder that a rush to judgment can so easily lead one to the wrong conclusion, exaggerating our response and blinding us to the hidden gems that life harbors.
Just like the Brooklyn street where, at six years old, I used to savor the sweetness of the neighbor’s honeysuckle flowers in spring, this must be a fine place to raise a family.