One of the things I most greatly valued at the University of Vermont was that nobody took the surrounding natural beauty for granted. A postcard-worthy view of the mountains was never overlooked, and there was a somewhat fulfilling sentiment that came from watching passersby consistently turn their heads 90 degrees, taking in the light over the mountains. It was a moment to feel fortunate about where you are and the things that are bigger in life. Bigger than tests or roommate troubles or the collegiate broken heart. I remember an evening class which would break once per week so the entire class could climb the fire escape and watch the sunset.
Urban beauty is different. Mountains and treelines are replaced with street art and lighted facade. We’re lucky to have the water in Baltimore. The film noir feel of the dusky ships on Keith Avenue and South Clinton Street, the pattern of the city from the 13th floor. We have ducks and the occasional urban-safari worthy animal spotting, and the ability to walk to the end of the pier and hear relative silence. Perhaps a fog horn in the background. While there are moments of horror, such as the low-laying waterfront landings after a storm and rat roadkill, there are elements of our city – any city – with character and grace.
I was reminded to slow down and look at things differently after a Fast Company article crossed my path. Tracing a tiny Lego photographer on an urban quest to see the world, the photographs were a reminder of how mundane and everyday patterns are often, dare I say, pretty. I’ve spent a significant fraction of my life working in the outdoor industry, reminded that there are kids who grow up without parks, who have never been on farms, who have never been surrounded by trees or bumblebees. Though as I’ve come to learn cities, I realize these worlds of concrete are not without beauty. Lights reflecting on the water or the sunset in my rearview mirror still make me pause. The evening ride from Tide Point on the water taxi in the blackness of winter shows me a skyline every Baltimorean should make a point to experience. A rooftop deck on the fourth of July, the farmers market under 83, the man with the telescope in the middle of South Broadway. The urban landscape is often made beautiful because of the wooden boards or rain-soaked pavement which we work so hard to ignore.
While I often ache to see the stars and escape the sound of sirens, living in the city has forced me to redefine those things that help me breathe and remind me to reflect. I wonder if we were all a bit more adept in appreciating our landscape for the beauty it holds, if we’d work to make it better and add to it, rather than tearing it down. If we’d emphasize street art and ways to engage and enjoy, rather than throwing an empty bottle out of our car window as we pull onto Fayette Street. Perhaps a city doesn’t fit the traditional definition of beauty often affiliated with a bucolic pasture, but we have a moon and stars here too. We just have to look a little harder to see them.