Sunday, 31 March 2013

People Attract People

Though we rarley do it in our own community, when my spouse and I travel, one of our favourite pastimes is to partake in a little 'people watching'.  We'll choose a spot where there is a fair bit of activity:  a public beach; an outdoor cafe on a busy intersection.  One of us will randomly select a passersby -- sometimes an individual, perhaps a couple or even a family-- and the other will have to weave a plausible story regarding what the passerby is doing (or even thinking) at that particular moment in time.  Occassionally, we are rewarded by some tidbit of evidence that our make-believe world is very near reality. 

On one occassion I chose a man walking slowly and alone down a street.  Once, we witnessed a man slowly walking along the street but suddenly clearly looking for something or, in this case, someone.  The story my partner gave him was that this single man was really part of a couple.  We could almost here him murmuring to himself, 'Where did she go?  I took my eyes off her for one minute and, when I turned around, she was gone."  After all, how many times has that been our story (hence the reason why we rarely shop together)?  Although he walked by, he returned to find a good vantage point and park.  Sure enough, a few minutes later we saw a woman walking alone and burdened with the success of her shopping, but who also seemed to be paying more than the usual amount of attention to her surroundings as if she too were watching for someone.  As she neared the man, he stood up, and walking toward her,  lightened her load from her arms.  That was sufficient for us to conclude that our assumptions had considerable merit. 

Our game doesn't require anything special, except for a location where there is a goodly amount of pedestrian activity and a comfortable place to sit.  After all, it wouldn't be much of a game if we didn't have a significantly wide array of people to choose from and as it sometimes take some time, it's nice to be comfortable.  It doesn't need to be pretty; it doesn't have to be formal.  We just need a spot where we can sit unobtrusively and watch the people around us interact with each other and the world.  We've paused to listen to people playing a guitar at a bus stop and, before long, my partner is taking this instrument into his own hands and playing a tune for the musician.

In the rural community in our home, it's common to find the road we are driving along blocked as two neighbours slow their vehicles, roll down their windows and have a quick visit. 

While our mothers, fathers and grandparents all seemed to understand the importance of congregating with their neighbours, we seem to have digarded this, in favour of turning inward, and isolating ourselves.  Instead of the white picket fence separating our yard from your neighbour's, we now construct solid 6' fences.  If we're fortunate, we might even have a front attached garage, effectively blocking our view of the front as well.  It's not uncommon for families to be neighbours very years with little more than a casual remark or passing wave that passes as communication.

For decades our streets and sidewalks were designed to promote movement from Point A to Point B.  There was no park bench, no ledge to lean upon. Internally, coffee counters and soda fountains disappeared from department and drug stores; chairs and benched unobtrusively tucked into a corner where our seniors could stop to rest or visit mysteriously disappeared.  Slowly, but surely, we are beginning to recognize the error of our ways.  Street furniture has made comeback and outdoor cafes are the rage. 


But does it take an extravagant or  even an organized effort?  Perhaps not.  All we seem to need is other people.  Here are just a few example of how simple it can be.

http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/thriving-public-spaces-just-add-seating-commons

http://www.buildinghappiness.org/?p=181