Love in the City

Cities can be very romantic places. Which is a good thing to remember during the week of Valentine’s Day.

There are many places for romance away from the city. In my long-ago youth, I recall sitting on a beach with a young lady, watching pelicans swoop across a blue, blue sky. Walking along a mountain creek, enjoying the wind whispering through pine trees. And resting against a fallen tree trunk while holding hands and watching a majestic waterfall.

But there is something special about love in the city. About brushing shoulders with strangers while knowing that you and the woman at your side have a secret that no one else knows. About finding a quiet corner for a quick hug only feet from a public market. Or about slipping into a pub for Irish coffees while a winter storm lashes the windows.

And in this middle week of February, that thinking is particularly timely. If forced to pick my favorite in-town romantic place in the North Bay, I’ll go with Sonoma Plaza. There is a small deli at which my wife and I like to buy sandwiches before settling on a plaza bench to share food and talk. But there are places that are nearly as special through the towns of the North Bay. In Petaluma, Healdsburg, Napa, and Sausalito.

Although not quite in the North Bay, my wife and I recently found a bit of romance in an unexpected urban place. In an unfortunate scheduling fluke, Cal and UCLA were booked to play a basketball game on Valentine’s Day. My wife graciously agreed to accompany me to the game. We arrived early and had a few minutes to explore Haas Arena on the Cal campus. We found ourselves on a balcony, watching an orange sun slowly sink past the Golden Gate Bridge while enjoying pre-game hotdogs. It was a nice interlude. (Which was then made more memorable by Cal whomping on UCLA.)

One of my favorite go-to bloggers, Kaid Benfield of the National Resources Defense Council, weighs in on the subject of city romance. First with a hoto survey of romantic places. And then with a musing on the relationship of sustainability to love. His key argument in the latter: If a place or a building isn’t lovable, it will be torn down in a generation or so, negating any sustainability that it might have had.

It seems that both of the Benfield blog posts were from Valentine’s Day a year ago. Indeed, I may have even linked one or both a year ago. But the messages are timeless.

I’ll close with a link that I know is new to this blog. In an early summary of his work that would eventually result in his classic "The Social Life of Small Urban Places", William Whyte wrote a piece called "Kissing is Up on New York Streets" for the July 15, 1974 issue of "New York".   (The link is to the entire magazine.  You’ll need to scroll down to page 26 to find the article.)

The kissing reference in the headline is actually a bit of pandering. Much of the article is about how people use public places and how to make public place work better. But romance does make an appearance. From page 29, "… our film records document an increasing tendency toward kissing, embracing, and other displays of affection in public." Perhaps the wording is a bit clinical, but the photos put a more human face on the findings.

Perhaps Valentine’s Day is now behind us, but there’s still plenty of time to enjoy an urban place with your favorite other. Maybe this weekend?

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. He has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and three dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com. He can also be followed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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