Sunday afternoons are interesting in our house. After church it is usually a relaxing day, but never completely consistent. Sometimes my wife and I watch a movie, sometimes sit and talk, sometimes we go to a book store and sometimes go for a walk (as it gets warmer we will be doing more of that).
A couple of weeks ago we decided to go to Barnes & Noble. We spent most of the time reading in the café. I found a variety of books and read a couple chapters in each, while my wife almost completed Mistaken Identity.
As we were reading I took a look around and noticed that there was a huge window with bar stools. Now, this isn’t a very odd thing, we see this all the time. People sit at the bar reading their book or newspaper and occasionally watch the scenery outside. Some will just sit and think not noticing the reading material they have in front of them.
The odd thing was that outside of this window wasn’t some beautiful landscaping of either God or man, it wasn’t a busy sidewalk where someone could people watch and observe the interactions of families, friends and couple. No, on the other side of this glass wall there was . . . a parking lot. In the foreground was a gigantic slab of pavement and in the background, a highway. As I sat I thought, “What is the purpose of that window? Is it to make a connection with those who pass by the store? Is it an open window into the intricate and interesting lives of human beings?” As I contemplated I realized it was none of these. In fact, that window was more a poorly thought out attempt to emulate connection and community. It was a window to nowhere.
This window was open to cars. You could see cars, cars and more cars. Occasionally a human would walk from their car to a store or from the store to their car, but other than that there was a vacancy of humanity. The sidewalk in front of the store served as much purpose as the window that was overlooking it. No one really used the side walks, they were an aesthetic. When people wanted to travel to a store they went from parking lot to store with little sidewalk in between. Really, Even though there may be a sidewalk, who walks from Best Buy to Dicks? Most people would rather drive the 50 yards – even with empty hands.
Think of this window in the midst of an Urban block. Yes, you would see cars, but you would also see people walking and talking. You would see families. Perhaps you would city an Urban park. No matter what you see it will be a window to humanity.
Urbanism does something more than just conserve land and economic resources. It creates an environment where the human, thus human interaction, is central. It makes us walk and pass other human being – not metal machines. It makes us observe how others live life and forces us to question and reinforce our own values.
Next time you travel to a big box book store look to see if it has a Window and as, “Where is that a window to?”