Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Tale of Two Suburbs

A doorway on Nymphenburger Strasse
My last address is the Hotel Nymphenburg in Neuhausen, an outlying area of Munich. Hotel Nymphenburg is a budget hotel so I will not compare it with my Sofitel experience. The price is one fifth that of Budapest. Today, I walked around Neuhausen which is a green, leafy suburb of Munich.
The sidewalks are divided to allow for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages. Today is Sunday so everyone is walking or cycling.

A fun statue in a platz.
In my three hours of walking, I passed shops, hairdressers, a hospital, many small parks and a huge public garden. Trams and buses passed me and every couple of blocks was an Underground station transporting commuters to downtown Munich. Each apartment complex had a green space with clothes lines and bicycle parking.
Berry bushes have been planted around the bike racks.
In Canada, I do not enjoy suburban life. Monsieur and I chose to buy an apartment in which to spend our senior years. Our apartment is large and surrounded by green space. It is possible to be a gardening volunteer, to play bridge or to go to Aquasize within our development. Some people put a card on their door at night and remove it in the morning to indicate that all is well. This Monday, Monsieur will be entertaining at the opening of our outside pool.

Unfortunately, the larger community plan is not so pleasant. Our street is much like a speedway with no protected bicycle lane. Last year, after my return from Paris, I bought a nice "girl" bike but I am afraid to ride it. While I was walking today, I passed many different sorts of restaurants. I ate in a Bavarian one, of course, but I had many choices. At home, KFC, A&W, Little Caesar's Pizza are across the street. I could have a coffee in the Starbuck's in Safeway if I wanted to but I don't. My grocery choices are limited compared to those in this German suburb where every other store is "Bio". Germany seems to abound in massage, naturopathy and healthy products.

 As schools and kindergartens are built within the Neuhausen neighbourhood, mothers walk their little ones to school. Traffic cones and parking issues play no role in the school life of this community. I passed many small parks where families were playing together. On a long week-end, only hotels and some restaurants are open. A visit to the mall is not a family outing.

One other thing that I noticed is that ground cover is used here more than grass lawns and public spaces  looked a little untended by our standards but I think that this is probably more environmentally friendly.
Statues of musicians decorated this building
I liked the sunflowers on this building.

What it comes down to is urban planning and regulation. My parents bought half an acre of land in 1953. We lived in a little house until they could afford to build their new home. After the births of three children in four and a half years, our family moved into our new pink split-level. Our new house was small by today's standards with lots of flowers, vegetables and a field to play in. That house was demolished after about 25 years and apartments were built. Those apartments 30 years later are not considered very desirable and population density has changed considerably. They will probably be replaced with towers in the near future. 

What we need for a healthy lifestyle is a walkable neighbourhood where most of our social, cultural
and retail needs can be met. After spending time in different countries of Europe, it seems to me that my own community has a long way to go.

3 comments:

  1. I agree, and I think it's one of the values of travel -- to see these possibilities and to advocate for them, even just in small ways, back home. I think you'd find Taras Grescoe's book Straphanger really worth reading. . . he talks about many of these issues. (the book is about the effect of public transit vs. automobile culture in shaping cities around the world)

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  2. I just read part of Taras Grescoe's article on his website. When you take the "loser" label away from public transit and plan communities where it is not necessary to rely on the automobile, life is more pleasant, healthier and more economical.
    Even the traffic lights in Neuhausen had a pedestrian and a bicycle depicted on them. My "tagkarte" day pass was 5 euros. Yesterday, before I left to come home, I walked around the neighbourhood of Nymphenberg Strasse. The shops were open at 9:00 in the morning. The "galleria" which I thought was a gallery was a lovely department store in Rotzkreutzplatz. No parking lot in sight. Two stops on the U from downtown Munich. Some fresh fruit and vegetable vendors had set up in the platz. There were mothers pushing prams and people having coffee outside. Despite the showery weather, most folks seemed to prefer outdoor seating with a view of the community. My taxi to the airport came in 2 minutes but for those with fewer bags, the Franz Josef airport is accessible by bus. I noticed that Grescoe got a Mavis Gallant award for Straphanger.

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  3. I think you will enjoy the book and might even be inspired to new travel destinations. I am keen. Now to visit Copenhagen based on his analysis of it.

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