It’s been a whirlwind of an experience adding so many miles to the fellowship, both in distance and in lessons learned. We’ve been to three states in four days, and it’s an entire immersion of American culture, city spaces, and the environment. Let’s go through them one by one:
1. Washington, District of Columbia
Exploring DC at eye-level, particularly the monumental core, is a dream come true for an urban planner because of its significance in urban history. In 1901, Father of American City Planning, Daniel Burnham, together with park and green space advocate Frederick Olmsted, Jr., became part of the Senate Park Commission, created by then US Senator James McMillan to address the public spaces of the District of Columbia. They added to the plan Charles L’Enfant created in 1791, and designed the landscapes and memorials of the world’s most powerful capital city.
Walking along the streets and seeing the monuments, plazas, gardens, and parks was enthralling; it is such a change to see an actual plan implemented (and what more, a plan that has withstood time, and for at least three centuries). Every angle of the Monumental Core is a postcard in itself.
Washington DC embodies beauty and grandeur, as planned. Walking along its outskirts is another matter because of how evident gentrification, homelessness, and other social issues play out.
2. Northampton and Easthampton, Massachusetts
With no breakfast, and a flight straight from Washington DC to Hartford-Springfield, we traveled to Northampton, Massachusetts and dived straight into a dance class in a park, walked seven kilometres on a bike trail that joins Northampton to Easthampton, joined a volunteer-led bike festivity, did a tour of a brewery-turned-indoor park and residence, and biked around the city. That’s 17,000 steps on just our first day.
Northampton is a small city that has talents in music and the arts. It is also a very liberal city, with very friendly people who are open to everyone, as far as we’ve met.
Northampton is also very invested in making the city bike friendly, so it has a trail that is connected to its nearby cities. This gives important lessons in urban spaces: First, its separation from car lanes shows how pedestrian and cyclists’ safety is prioritised; and second, it demonstrates how local governments can cooperate for project investments. Northampton’s planning matches our community projects on making better public spaces and green spaces.
3. Manchester, New Hampshire
Manchester, like Northampton, is one of the cities in what was formed to be New England (this shows to go how widespread British colonisation took place in the area). It’s a beautiful place, with many brick buildings and memorials and parks, and what’s attractive to me in this city is the influence of an architect/urbanist Frank Lloyd Wright on the design of Zimmerman House (which I hope I get to tour).
We are in Manchester to attend a conference on local climate solutions, which, on the first day, has been very informative already, specifically on climate communication and engagement and community of practice.