There are certain places that I start to feel connected to and even possessive of as I learn about them, visit them, or live in or near them. From my childhood, there’s Chicago; I only visited a couple times with family, but for some reason I developed a sense of belonging that has never faded. I recognize Chicago buildings and I can still remember visiting museums and driving along the waterfront. When I hear news about Chicago I feel almost as if I’m hearing news about a place where I’ve lived. And I’ve always thought Superman’s Metropolis should be Chicago, as Gotham City should be New York. It just seems to have the right tone.
From my first foray into adulthood, there’s Huntsville, Alabama, the city in which I first lived away from home. In Huntsville I gained new freedoms I’d never had living with my parents; I rode my bicycle all over and caught rides with friends to places in town. To this day I feel possessive of Sparkman Drive and the Eggbeater Jesus. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Huntsville in recent years, once in 2009 and twice last year, and the lovely changes to downtown and the cool new restaurants and shopping centers make me swell with pride, even though I had nothing to do with any of it.
Then there’s Austin, which I visited once briefly in 2000…somehow that city got under my skin and never left. Walking around downtown with Sean (who I was simply dating at the time), Ben, and some friends we’d met online, I felt “cool”. And that fast food sushi place blew my mind; Japanese food wasn’t ubiquitous back then. I remember being told that Austin was “the Silicon Hills,” that there was a tech explosion on the horizon, and I loved the lushness of Austin compared to the dry, flat areas of Texas we’d had to drive through to get there. These days an old friend of mine lives in Austin, as well as family; I also follow people on Twitter who live in Austin, and I pay attention to the Austin web scene.
Next is Augusta; as I lived there for eight years, its “second home” status is more than legitimate. Even though we moved away nearly two years ago, I still feel more connected to Augusta than I do to Atlanta, or even to our little corner of it. I had many friends there, and working in news gave me plenty of local insight and the opportunity to attend lots of local events. I love Augusta. Its weather is great, downtown is charming, outdoor activities abound, there’s plenty to do within a day’s drive (including going to the ocean or mountains), and the tech scene is vibrant. Since I’ve left it seems like Augusta is really ramping up; it makes me want to move back.
York, England is another city that made me feel oddly like I belonged. There was just something about it. The city is beautiful and walkable and features the gorgeous York Minster as well as an amazing tea shop. Brooke and I were only there for a day, but I could have easily spent a week; I wouldn’t say no to living there if given the opportunity.
Then there’s Birmingham, Alabama. For awhile there Sean was traveling for work a lot, and many of his trips were to Birmingham. As it’s just a couple miles west of Atlanta, I was able to tag along twice. I fell in love with the beauty of the city, its dedication to history, the many cultural activities that are easily accessible and free, the variety of restaurants, the city’s gardens and natural beauty. Visiting Vulcan was loads of fun despite the rainy weather, and I was excited to find Electra and the Temple of Sibyl on my jaunts through town. Sloss Furnace is gorgeous; I could see myself exploring those overgrown industrial ruins over and over again. And I love the Japanese section of the sprawling Birmingham Botanical Gardens. A friend of mine and his family just moved to Birmingham, and I must admit to being a little jealous.
There are some cities I’ve been to that haven’t had this effect on me. Though I’ve visited Savannah many times, I don’t feel that connection. I like it there, but there’s no sense of mutual belonging. The same goes for San Francisco; during my trip at the end of 2011 it seemed like a lovely place, but I’m not sure I would live there.
If there’s a trend to all the cities that feel like home, it would seem to include cool downtowns, lovely architecture, natural beauty, and walkability. Those last two items were large factors in choosing our current apartment in Marietta; I’m also pleased to note that Marietta has a cute downtown, though parking can be something of a hassle. The Atlanta area is huge, and it’s taking me awhile to develop that sense of comfort that comes from knowing what I’m doing in a city. But with everything Atlanta has to offer, I think I should eventually be able to call it another of my second homes.