Occasionally someone I meet will ask me what my degrees are in, and my answer is a mouthful that I try and get out in a single breath:
“I have a bachelors in public administration and a masters in applied geography with a focus in land planning and development.”
Eyebrows usually furrow. “…What does that mean? What can you do with that?”
There are many different things I can do with those expensive pieces of paper. Broadly speaking, I’ve studied how cities work. My family made sure I grew up imbued with a strong sense of civics and geography. Cartographic literacy was just as important as learning to read books and clocks; many of my first books were atlases. When I was in primary school I would get bored with my math homework and stop to design neighborhoods in the margins, even naming the streets. Cities and landscapes have always interested me.
This website is my venue for writing about how I perceive the places I visit and those I have lived in and love so much: Texas, Japan, and the Netherlands. It is a product of my environment, lived experiences, education, and travels.
Texas is a huge state and is notoriously hard to get out of. I enjoyed telling my Japanese colleagues that if I were to leave my hometown by car, I would reach Mexico in less time than I could reach any of the U.S. states that surround Texas. Most Japanese people like to think, and often tell foreigners, that “Oh, poor little Japan, it’s so small!” I would appease them and say, “Yes, Japan fits into Texas almost twice!” This is true, but I also liked to deflate the argument by adding that Japan’s latitude is roughly the same length of the entire U.S. eastern seaboard.
Japan is not so small. It is long and thin, and much of its terrain is mountainous, which has squeezed more and more of its population into valleys and plains. It is no coincidence that the largest and most historically important cities of Japan – Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya – are sea or river ports that occupy some of the country’s flattest lands.
But the Netherlands is small. It fits into Texas 16 times. Sixteen! Maybe it’s because this country is so small that its cities are among the densest in Europe. The Dutch also take their city limits seriously: urban sprawl is not near the problem in the Netherlands that is is in many developed countries. I’ve also found that The Hague has been much better about integrating the natural landscape in its city plans than Tokyo, which has paved over many of its rivers, and Texas, which struggles to keep industry from polluting its air and waterways (though, truthfully, that happens almost everywhere to a degree).
The three countries we’ve lived in codify their cultural norms and economic priorities like every other place does, and checking out the cities of each gives insight into what the people of each place generally value. Each place has different economies and geographies to consider. But I’m just as interested in what lies between the broad strokes, the minutiae that are responsible for a well-crafted sense of place.
And just in case you don’t know me at all, check out About the Author.