As most of us can attest from our childhood, the suburbs always seemed lacking in some certain ingredient. Many of us grew up in a -ville or -burg just far enough outside of somewhere more substantial. For me, at the age of nine, the most obvious indicator of a city was its skyline. Growing up just outside of Pittsburgh, probably the most gripping experience I can recall is entering into the forested hillside that is home to the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and then waiting for the moment when you burst through the other side to an entirely different world. Skyscrapers, a 50-foot high fountain, three rivers, helicopters, bridges spanning in every direction. It was blissful sensory overload.
When you are young, you understand the thrill, but it is difficult to break apart the experiential chaos to focus on individual components. Those of us who are drawn to cities and who might consider ourselves urban enthusiasts could probably make a lengthy list of reasons why we’ve chosen this lifestyle over the placid alternative. Recently, it occurred to me that, if put on the spot, I would likely list predictable conveniences such as public transportation, walkable neighborhoods and density. But what about the less obvious attributes? The ones that may not even have to perform some greater function other than to remind you that you’re somewhere unique.
Cities excite us because of their complexity. The innumerable layers, textures, sounds, smells and distractions keep our senses constantly engaged with our surroundings. The urban fabric is always changing, businesses are coming and going….and so are people. What keeps all of this constant motion and change so thrilling is that, if you blink, you could miss some of the more confounding captivations. Everybody has a different experience depending on what block they choose to turn down. Maybe a good example of this is the tourist who wanders down Curtis Street swearing she hears a subway and is having trouble locating the station (until she realizes that Denver just likes to have a sense of humor with its public art). Even better is when you feel you’ve uncovered all there is to see in your city, then you turn down the same lifeless block you’ve walked down a hundred times and see something new for the first time.
Last weekend I had the delight of being humbled in that exact way. Just off 14th street, a collection of stunningly vibrant graffiti-style pieces stopped me dead in my tracks. The larger-than-life creations triggered a reaction in my hands to fumble through my pockets anxiously searching for my phone to snap a picture from the middle of the road. Yes I looked like a tourist, yes I could have been run over by traffic as a result of my panicked state, and yes I am 100% thrilled to live in a city that allows me to connect with the same sense of wonder and curiosity that I embodied at the age of nine.
Stumbling upon these experiences reminds you that the place you live in is full of surprises, creativity and wonder. It’s the same reason we chose to be urbanites in the first place. So when presented with the opportunity, remember to stop and smell the roses every once and a while….or at least the sewer gas.
(If you have a favorite urban experience or nuance about the Mile High City that captivates you, I encourage you to share in the comments section.)