July 28, 2014

When I started my blog, I did not want to become famous. I just wanted to find a great place to live, and short of that, offer ways to make the places that currently exist better. I really did not think what I had to say was that interesting to other people.

The interesting thing about fame is that it finds you. A few years ago, if I had 1 person visiting my site a week, I was ecstatic to think someone was taking the time to read what I had wrote. Occasionally, one of these people would like what I had to say and tweet a link to my blog, or reference it on a forum, or link to it through their own blog. There were a couple of people who I knew followed my blog, and I followed theres'.

Then something happened. It did not happen over night, but gradually I gained more visitors. Some of my blog posts went viral, especially Let's Build A Traditional City (And Make A Profit) and A Traditional City Primer. They did not go viral overnight either - they barely flickered an interest when I first published them, but 6 months later someone discovered and shared them.

It is not uncommon to occasionally have 5,000 people a day read my blog. It really overjoys me to think so many people are interested in it. I get e-mails, occasionally a physical letter (I do not know how they get my address) - sometimes from mayors, sometimes from congress, sometimes from other bloggers, but most of the time from people like you and me - grandparents from Texas, single suburban parents, young adults moving out of home. People that just want an alternative to suburban living. The response is overwhelming.

This past weekend, I have had a visitor from every state read my blog;

And from every continent (except Antartica);

When I first started blogging, I was honestly scared that if I spoke to anybody in real life about urbanism, they would get offended, call me an outsider, and tell me to leave. Surprising, everybody has been very friendly and welcoming.

I will share some comments and e-mails I have received this past weekend. I will respect their privacy and keep their identities anonymous.

My favourite comment of the weekend was;

It's nice to have a name for what I've been feeling, most recently for about three years while living and travelling overseas. I lived in Garmisch, Germany in the fussganger (pedestrian) zone. We traveled to Venice, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Salzburg and other places like them. I'm a writer, not a city planner, so all I ever knew was that they felt right. Venice, in particular, is my favorite. But even in places like Salzburg or Rome I always preferred the old quarters to the new. And it's not just Europe. I was stationed in Korea three times for a total of almost 7 years. The same is true there. I've never been accused of being sentimental, and I'm no history buff, so it's always been kind of out of character for me. Now I know.

All that was in the Army. About halfway through my career I started opting out of visits to the big cities once I had seen them. Tokyo looks like Berlin with different script on the signs and a few Japanese flourishes. The new parts of Seoul could be swapped out with the new parts of London, and so on. And where they are different -- for example San Francisco -- is where they are small enough to be unique.

Now I live in suburban Maryland. The only place I walk to is the shopping center that's about 8 or 10 minutes from my house. Almost no one is ever walking on the streets, and judging by the looks I get I think people assume I'm poor and in the area to do some work or something, because the only people from that area who aren't driving are either walking dogs or out running. Nobody walks to the store or to pick up takeout.

With cars and suburbs it's all about isolation. It's so easy to see, but only if you've seen something else. Most people in the suburbs today haven't.

The following excerpts are from my two favourite e-mails this weekend;

To be honest, reading your posts makes me feel sick because I know that I could not persuade the average person here that life in a traditional city might be better than life in the suburbs.

I also saw this blog post from 2013--and I wanted to ask if you've considered starting a Kickstarter campaign (or something similar on another crowdfunding platform like GoFundMe or Indiegogo) to attract attention to your cause.

If you organized your cause, I would definitely invest.

I read all of your comments and e-mails. Even if I do not have time to reply to each and every one, I read and appreciate them all. Sometimes I have been guilty of Googling myself just to see what people have commented about me, although I have promised my wife I would not let fame get to my head. But it is nice to feel like I am not alone.

The most frustrating part is - when are we going to see change? Not two generations of baby steps (reconfiguring the odd building with a smaller setback), but actually see someone, somewhere go all-in on returning to traditional urbanism? I am waiting for the day we can get a handful of people (developers, planners, investors) on the same page in the same room.