Friday, April 9, 2010

Chewy urban center

I live in what social-planner types (the kind that plan communities, not the kind that plan parties) call an “inner-ring” suburb (or, a bit more gently, a “first” suburb). In my parents’ day (or maybe my grandparents’), it would have been called a “streetcar” suburb, because back then, the streetcars ran out as far as these suburbs to take folks into the city. Vestiges of that still exist – the streetcars were long since sold to Toronto, but there’s light rail into the Heights, and in the rest of the streetcar suburbs, sometimes, during road repairs, when the asphalt’s dug up, you can see the remains of the brick pavers and the beds for the streetcar tracks.

My neighbor and fellow hockey mom likes to talk about “all that crunchy suburban goodness with a chewy urban center.” It’s kind of true. She often means it in a more ironic way – we’re happy when our schools make the “Continuous Improvement” ranking, and we’ll be really psyched when they make “Effective.” (“Excellent” is a pipe dream, and that only if you’ve got something pretty strong in that pipe!) We have nearly as many houses being foreclosed upon as they do in the city, it seems. And we’ve got a bunch of empty factories, though these days, you’ve likely got a bunch of those, too, whether you’re in the city, suburbs, or country.

However, the “chewy urban center” has its benefits, too. The other day, while the weather was still warm, our family engaged in one of our favorite activities – one that folks out in the land of cul-de-sacs don’t get to enjoy. We grabbed our umbrellas against the lowering sky and walked to the theater to see “How to Train Your Dragon.”

Yep, we walked. Now that’s a bit of chewy urban goodness.

We had a bite at home before we left, but other times we’ve done this, we’ve stopped along the way to or from. On our path, we pass an upscale pizza place – and a couple of pizza chains, though I don’t think either of the chains do anything other than takeout. A couple of fast-food restaurants are just off our path (the girls would like us to stop at one of those), and a couple that you might or might not classify as fast food are on it. There’s a Chinese place, a wing joint, and a little family restaurant. (I think the family that runs it is Greek, but the menu is the sort of standard fare that you really can’t tell.) Just a bit past the theater, there’s a sit-down chain restaurant. There’s also a kebab place and a coffeehouse that reside in a weird sort of limbo for me – I can see them easily on my path, but actually getting to them requires either a mad dash across five lanes of traffic (and with half the Home Depot in my left ankle, I don’t dash madly if it can be at all avoided) or spending most of the journey there backtracking.

Amazingly, though my friends and I often gripe about the lack of retail around here (if you wanna buy clothes or housewares or books, you’ve gotta head out of town), this clearly doesn’t apply to food. And our local theater has a 3D screen now, though I haven’t decided which I like better yet – seeing a movie in 3D or seeing it in 2D on the 60-foot screen that is a remnant of the time when theaters showed one BIG movie instead of seven or ten or fifteen little ones.

Good food, good movies, a pleasant walk in between... who needs a cul-de-sac?

*Oh, and as for “How to Train Your Dragon”? Go see it, especially if you’ve got kids... especially if they’re at that age where you’re really starting to wonder if they’ve gone off the deep end. Even if the Vikings sound less like Norsemen than Scots (because Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson are so not Norwegian).

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