Last spring I visited Toronto to apply for a visa—why the Danish government required me to fly halfway across Canada to apply for a visa is beyond me—perhaps they forgot that the amount of time it takes to drive across Denmark is the amount of time it takes me to reach the next closest city. I was there for less that twenty-four hours and flew in on the red eye. I found the city disorienting in part because of my tiredness and in part because the downtown went on forever and ever and ever.
I grew up in Calgary—and somewhere along the way fell in love with the city. In many ways it shaped who I am and how I conceive of what a city should be. It fits with my desire for things to be neatly organized and compartmentalized. The downtown is small and well defined, mostly for geographic reasons. It is the area between the river, the train tracks and a major roadway. It can go no further. Then there are outlying high density communities of various names. These regions are not downtown. They are near downtown, but they are adjacent to it as opposed to a part of it—or at least that’s the way I see it. I find that everywhere else I go downtown is so much more loosely defined.
Growing up downtown seemed big and mysterious. In junior high I transferred buses near Knox United Church and got to know it a little bit better. I wandered the blocks between buses stops and started to become familiar with the downtown core. In high school me and a good friend of mine went on outing to downtown we called doing downtown. He would try on expensive menswear—there is nothing like debaters going suit shopping—and we would wander in the shadows of office towers. We started to frequent the alternative movie theatres downtown, and to explore downtown’s parks. We waited on C-Train platforms. Over time I got to know the streets and the areas around downtown. I knew which buses ran where.
After moving to a new city it always seems like this endless blur. It begins as the area around your house, the area that you live and work in. From there you explore and develop places that you like to pass your time. You visit the places your guidebook recommends—or at least a couple of them. You are aware of metro stops and different locations. Over time you begin to connect the dots between these. I can trace my way down streets, I know how to get from point A to point B. I know how things relate to one another. I know that if I keep going down this street for long enough I will reach a certain place. It is like in Age of Empire how you begin with a big grey map and as you explore. Eventually it all becomes familiar. I can trace Copenhagen in my mind. I can picture the streets and how the connect. The bridges over the river. Downtown to Tivoli to the meatpacking district.
However, I don’t think I can say that Copenhagen has a downtown, at least not in the sense that Calgary taught me. There are areas where people work but they don’t have the same feel to me. Perhaps I will always carry that idea of downtown as something small and well-defined in my head. I will divide blocks of office towers into more easily defined areas to make sense of it all.