UrbSanity: Resident Tourist

Images altered. Creative commons: Nic McPhee/Sebastien Morin/Garry Knight

Originally published in the Centretown Buzz
by Jeff Salmon
February 17, 2014

I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled to some amazing cities around the world, in addition to living in Bern, Switzerland, for four months during school.

Something that emerged from both my travels abroad, as well as life at home, was how the experience of a city varies drastically depending on how you choose to navigate it, whether you are on foot, cycling, or in a car.

Of course each method lends itself to a certain type of exploration. Cars, for example, will afford you a fairly general understanding of a city, whereas walking tends to provide a more intimate understanding of the city. This is primarily because of the speed at which you are moving.

When traveling by car, especially if you are the driver, it can be very challenging to take in what is happening around you, often leaving you with some memories of key landmarks. On the other hand, if there is limited public transit, touring around by car can really expand the amount of area you can explore and becomes a great way of identifying places you want to come back to.

Similar to the car, when you are cycling you can cover a significant area yet the slower pace allows you to absorb more of your surroundings. Also, when traveling by bike it is easy to make a quick stop if something peaks your interest, without the stress of finding a parking spot.

While many cities have made cyclists a priority for years—Amsterdam comes to mind—most other major and minor cities are placing additional emphasis on cyclists by introducing or improving both on- and off-street bicycle infrastructure. These infrastructure projects mean that in urban areas cycling will not only offer a more nuanced experience but will also often be faster than taking a car.

In contrast to the car and bicycle, choosing to explore a new city on foot is notably slower and potentially the most rewarding. As you slow down you begin to discover new layers of the city. Even with a set destination in mind, walking allows you to engage with your surroundings, whether you are peering into storefront windows, listening to the chatter on the street or noticing the unique architecture of the buildings. All of these things offer insight into the character of a particular city or community.

Unfortunately, most people reserve their desire to explore for cities other than their own. Even those people who will tell you that they really know their community probably haven’t spent enough time exploring other parts of the city.

When friends or family visit Ottawa, it is always a great reminder of just how much this city has to offer, as well as how much I have yet to discover. I relish the opportunity to play the resident tourist because it gets me thinking about not only the great spots I know but also the areas of Ottawa that would be great to explore with some good company.

With that said, most of my great finds have happened on my own—whether it was a detour to avoid construction while out cycling, or walking in the winter and looking for a place to warm up.

Next time you have an errand to run, consider turning it into an opportunity to play tourist in your own city. Whether you are in the car, riding a bike or walking, if you look at your city with fresh eyes, you will likely discover something you have overlooked for years.

It seems that the more you discover about a city the greater connection you have to it.

If you have a good story of exploration or discovery in Ottawa or some other city you can share it in the comment section below.

  1. Steve C said:

    Hey Jeff, nice post. I really think you hit the nail on the head, especially in Ottawa. The city has a “boring” image, but I feel like you can find a lot of amazing things, just by looking. I find the “Love Ottawa” project in town is doing a great job of highlighting all the great things about the city. You should check it out.

    • Glad the article resonated.
      The “Love Ottawa” project looks great! Yet another fantastic example of an individual-led initiative within the city that seems to have some traction. Hopefully through projects like this we can continue to move away from the perception that Ottawa is boring.

      Anyone who hasn’t checked out the Love Ottawa project, it is worth a look:

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