Urban Nostalgia8 December 2020
People associate cities with alienation. Consumerism. The soul-sucking nine-to-five grind. Cold capitalist sterility and chaotic excess, side by side. Tall towers devoid of character, obscuring the sky with glass and steel. Crowds so suffocatingly thick you lose your sense of self. Glaring lights, loud noises you can’t drown out. Light pollution, sound pollution, air pollution. So much of everything that people can only take it in small doses, that they want to retreat to the comfort and peace of their own homes to recover from the intensity of it all.
But in the middle of the city is where I feel most at home. I find solace in its flood of sensory experiences, belonging in its vast and ever-expanding limbs which I could never hope to fully explore. I find familiarity and comfort in the multitudes of strangers I walk by and so fleetingly interact with.
The glow of neon lights feels warmer than the flame of any fire. A gulp of smoggy city air refreshes me more than a breath of sea breeze ever could.
The city has never felt artificial to me. I feel life pulsing through me as I rush down narrow streets, weaving through dense crowds, walkways, alleys; through shopping arcades, deserted backstreets and hidden laneways, sprinting to catch trams and speeding down escalators to make it onto the platform before the train pulls in.
Crowds, pollution, grime, the ticking of pedestrian crossings, the whir of passing traffic, the insistent ringing of tram bells; I want it all to envelop me.
And now, the sight of deserted streets and empty trams still rocks me to my core, even though I’ve had months to become accustomed to it. People talk about the decline of the city. Maybe workers won’t return to their central business district offices. Perhaps people will feel too claustrophobic and anxious to squeeze themselves into crowded trams and tiny cafes. Concert halls and museums will stand empty for quite some time. Club dancefloors will gather dust for much longer. When the city can finally breathe again, what will be left of it?
What if the city I know and love is gone forever?
What if I never get to return home?