Monday, April 19, 2010


Originally uploaded by reallyct
I think that I will forever be a person with snobbish attitudes about what constitutes a city. I realize that I could use a different set of vocabulary to make things easier and transfer my notions of 'city' to 'megalopolis' thereby preserving the word 'city' for such places as Lincoln, Charleston, and Tucson which I am sure follow the dictionary definition. But I'm not really going to do that leaving me to call places 'town' that really are more than that. It's just that I don't even consider Los Angeles a city as it is more a sprawl than anything else and has never had a center. Hong Kong is a city; London is a city; Chicago is a city. You other places? I don't know what you are.

Stamford, therefore, is very much a town. A town that plays host to UBS and R(u)BS and some other glass menagerie dwellers. It has a couple blocks that could be called a downtown plaza, a shopping mall, and a host of undifferentiated condos. I have known of Stamford for many years because it was where devoted partner and I traveled when we had need of items Greenwich didn't provide. Devoted partner, a Greenwich native, knew the bars, the Mongolian restaurant (sadly defunct), and the various houses of ill repute. But we never spent much time in Stamford.

Recently, however, we have made a couple of forays that led me to a new found appreciation of the town. I don't know from whence it developed, but Stamford has some pretty spectacular architecture, from a strictly kitsch point of view. Take this, my favorite building in Stamford, the one I never feel I adequately capture. Does this not fill you with Saarinen JFK terminal bliss? Come on, look closer.
It makes me want to go out and buy tons of impractical furniture. It makes me want to paint things obstreperous colors. It makes me want to wear a white minidress. It makes me want to drive a vintage Jaguar. In short, if you can't tell, I love this building. One day, I might love it so much as to find out what's inside.

So when work yet again took devoted partner's Sunday, I decided to head on out to Stamford and practice with my camera a bit. I was shocked by one thing: the streets were entirely empty. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the kind of Sunday morning which, in a city, would see young couples pushing strollers and people lining up for brunch. Stamford was so deserted that I found myself grateful that the people who were out and about were patrolmen. I had hoped to take pictures of people, something I am notoriously crappy at (why must you be so blurry, people?), but there just weren't any.
As I rounded the corner back onto the main drag, I was quite pleased to see church letting out as it at least gave me the opportunity to try to catch better people pictures (still failing, methinks switching to manual and jacking up my shutter speed might be the answer). But the people dispersed immediately. They returned to their cars without stopping for brunch or coffee or a leisurely walk. Whatever else was going to happen on this beautiful Sunday, it wasn't going to happen in Stamford.

And I think that's where I come to the problem of calling places cities. A city is alive all the time. Stamford may thump to the beat of the markets Monday-Friday from 7am to 7pm; it might even have some thumping on the weekend nights, but it doesn't sustain its pulse. Places like Dallas, which have a downtown business district, but where most people live in surrounding suburbs, are different. Life, the life that happens between families and friends, happens elsewhere.
The downtown is a utility, a place for work and shopping, but not a place for being together. So I don't know what to call it. There are people who live in Stamford proper, the neighborhood boasts these dramatically ugly, yet fascinating, round tenements and, as mentioned before, cookie cutter condos and rentals for the singles who UBS and RBS, but the areas surrounding both types of lodging were empty. And, frankly, that made me a little sad. Because the more I walked around Stamford the more I saw the twins opportunity and failure. The number of empty storefronts for rent and the number of cute places that were still open spoke to great potential.
The town of Stamford has done a great job with greenspace and gleaming sidewalks and buildings. I wanted there to be more cafes with outdoor seating and people in the seats because here I saw something cute just waiting to be realized. Last summer we visited the farmer's market that was in one of the squares and after my morning peramble, its problems were brought into focus: very few vendors, several not even selling their own wares, and fewer people in attendance. Stamford, for reasons a citygirl like me finds incomprehensible, doesn't make it as a hub. People who live in the area don't want to go there in their free time. They'll got for the Target, but they won't stay for long. It's not hip, it's not desirable. But, for me, it has certainly made a good argument for repeat visits.

1 comment:

  1. I have puzzled over the no-man's-land that is downtown Stamford since the early 80s, when I worked at a variety of dreary temporary administrative positions. It's interesting how the city hasn't changed since that time. Perhaps it simply comes down to an absence of bodies. What if the City of Stamford imported 30,000 people to roam around, shop, dine al fresco, watch street performers, and generally lounge around for a month of Saturdays and Sundays? Really, I think I'd feel very differently, and more motivated to hang out in Stamford, if there were just more people on the streets.