Saturday, August 11, 2012

Turnaround- the old and the new

When I returned from a trip to Spain (my second home where I spent 20 years) I was struck by how modern Europe is compared to the US. Usually the image we have of Europe is of living history but Spain manages to combine the very old with innovations I never see in Buffalo. First of all there’s public transport. In Barcelona there are trams, buses, subways, and commuter train lines. Trams could be speeding right out of the Jetsons. All of these post wait times on a screen at the stop. My theory is that if you have to wait more than 20 minutes, it’s not going to be public transport and that rarely happens. And this is at a bargain price of less than 10 euros per ten rides. Even the city beaches have screens with water and wind conditions posted for all the different beaches. I pay $2 per trip on the bus here for a relatively limited service though I must be grateful it even exists. After all, the US doesn’t invest in public transport and it’s a battle to keep it running as was demonstrated in Buffalo with the battle when the NFTA (transport authority) tried to radically cut service. My bus rides in Buffalo couldn’t be more different than in Europe. Two men greet each other at the stop with knuckle touches, one woman says into her cell phone, “You’re in my shit.” I love listening to the conversations which have little to do with the language I teach daily. The bus has a curious mix of riders who I see on a regular basis, having become one of them: a Hassidic man with his religious book, lots of closed workshop attendees, a smattering of downtown workers, and the refugee students who greet me as they get on. In Barcelona, public transport isn’t just for the poor. Recycling- in Barcelona there are 5 containers for trash. We have two here and some communities don’t even have that. Public buildings in the city have solar panels and there is the sense of growth and prosperity despite the economic crisis. In Buffalo there are people who live in neighborhoods where there is no high speed internet. TV in Barcelona is free with at least 30-40 stations and the state run channels have no advertising. In the US, without cable, TV is extremely limited. I still haven’t succumbed to buying a TV and perhaps never will. There is new architecture and all kinds of innovations in Barcelona- it seems the old quarter is pretty much sacrificed for tourists but working class and middle class neighborhoods have new public spaces. The neighborhood of Sant Marti has a green area that helps cover up a noisy highway that runs through it. One section has a water wall so instead of the noise of traffic, there’s the sound of falling water. And in Barcelona bike sharing has really taken off. I saw people of all ages and dress on bicycles. Some cities here are finally getting a system set up but it’s hard to convince a car driving population that this really works for commuting. In a country where infrastructure is old and rarely replaced I feel like I am living in a far older place than Europe.

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