Food Courts
June 23, 2014

Food courts play an important role in urban culture. Food courts are more than simply places you can walk to to eat a reasonably priced meal or snack at;

Food courts are social places. They are places where co-workers becomes friends - and conversation is not limited to work. They are where you meet old friends or family memebers out for lunch. They are a break and a change of environment, and the walk back to work - stretching your legs after a satisfied stomach (I am restless if I sit down straight after eating a large meal - I need to take at least a small walk!) alongside your friends is one of the best feelings out there. I have fond memories of many food courts - they represented breaks from an otherwise mundane day. I remember them not just by their food but by the laughs, friends, and experiences I had there. I would look forward to going to lunch with my friends, more for the social experience than just the food.

I miss the experience of walking to lunch after moving to a suburban town. Groups of us at work will often drive to lunch. Even though it is still a social experience, it is far from the same experience. Instead of walking a couple of blocks, we will carpool to a near by restaurant. Instead of seeing the menu of a dozen food vendors and deciding on the spot what type of food you are in the mood for, everybody agrees on the type of place we are going to (Mexican, pizza, barbeque, sandwiches). Instead of walking down the street, getting fresh air and exercise surrounded by a lively array of sights, sounds, and smells, we are sitting in a car driving down a 4 lane road.

Driving to lunch is not a horrible experience. I have had many great lunch-time memories here too, and the differences I discuss are not problems - it takes all but 60 seconds for us to agree on where to go for lunch, and I often take a walk outside after lunch when I am back at the office, so I am not just sitting back in my chair for another 5 hours on a full stomach. Like many things I miss in my transition to a suburban lifestyle, I do not really care about each little difference specifically, but when I am nostalgic about the past and the fond memories I have, each little difference feels like a big difference as when it all comes together I feel like I am getting a watered-down experience of what I use to have.

I would consider a third of a mile to be a maximum distance I would consider walking to lunch. I know I could probably power walk a third of a mile in less than 5 minutes, or at a slow stroll in perhaps 10 minutes. When I lived in Brisbane, a third of a mile covered pretty much the entire city centre;

We would not normally walk that far every day since we had multiple food courts within a one or two block walk, and I remember my walks to lunch being leisurely two minute strolls down the street with friends. But, at the end of the day, if I wanted to go to a cinema, casino, museum, department store, or if I had a doctor's appointment, it was at most, a 5 minute power-walk away. You could be incredibly productive in a 30 minute break. That is what I call walkable.

I know Adelaide much more intimately growing up there, so I mapped out a third of a mile from my university and I dotted the food courts that I can remember;

I am sure I am missing some, because they are only the ones I remember and I am not including the countless restaurants, cafes, pubs, and fast-food outlets, which would easily bring up the number of places within walking distance to hundreds;

There is a recent trend of food trucks popping up around the United States - when they are grouped together they could probably be considered the equivalent of an outdoor food court;

I miss the experience of walking to lunch with my friends daily. I have observed that food courts, much like buskers, transit, pedestrian scrambles, and spruikers, tend to arise where there is a critical mass of street activity that makes them viable, and the concentration of such things tend to be a good indicator of where the liveliest part of a city is. Perhaps my nostaliga is not of food courts themselves, but of the lively environment they represent? But, I do not think building a food court where there is no critical mass for it, much like building a pedestrian scramble where there are no pedestrians, is going to make a city feel lively and energetic.