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austin_dern

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Apr. 9th, 2012

I mentioned my regrets that my father wasn't able to go to [livejournal.com profile] bunny_hugger's with me and my mother. There's obvious reasons for this, not least that everybody involved is certain that he'll get along fantastically well with her father; they've got uncannily similar personality profiles, particularly in the desire to make small talk with everything up to and including certain kinds of statuary. But I also think he'd do some good in moderating or deflecting conversations that threaten to get on sore spots. My mother and I can be tone-deaf.

A case in point: my mother got to talking with [livejournal.com profile] bunny_hugger about the size of the city of Lansing, and said that it felt to her much like the suburbs which make up so much of New Jersey. This irritated [livejournal.com profile] bunny_hugger and my mother was surprisingly oblivious to that. It is arrogant of east-coasters to regard midwestern cities as these amusing efforts at urbanization, as though every place needed to be midtown Manhattan to be a city.

I think that I understand what my mother was getting at, though: much of the Lansing area has roughly the population density, the packing of buildings and streets and people, comparable to the vast urban swath of New Jersey, which we think of as suburbs because the population of New Jersey is in either the suburbs of New York City or the suburbs of Philadelphia. New Jersey has several cities which are cities in their own right, but they are also clearly subordinate communities to the big cities.

And if all you get a sense of is how crowded a place is, it's easy to say that the feel of Lansing's Ingham County may not be different from (say) Ocean County. But a city isn't population density. It's this interface between residences and commercial spaces and industry and cultural items and recreation activities and governments and transportation and many more things. I wonder if we'd have had the weather to justify walking around everywhere all weekend whether my mother would have the same reaction.

[ Oh, I just bothered to look it up. If Wikipedia's to be trusted, Ocean County has nearly twice the population density of Ingham County, 900 people per square mile compared to 500 per square mile. Jackson, New Jersey, comes in at about 550 people per square mile, although Lansing comes in at 3200 people per square mile. But, again, population density is not the same as being a city. ]

Anyway, I suppose my whole point to this is, my mother got a little East Coast snobbish about how urbanized Michigan is, and I didn't do enough to deflect it to less agonizing territory.

Trivia: On his first balloon ascent, over Paris, the aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont had a lunch of roast beef, chicken, ice cream and cake, champagne, and hot coffee. Source: First Flight: The Wright Brothers And The Invention of The Airplane, T A Heppenheimer.

Currently Reading: Angel Station, Walter Jon William.

PS: Early April's Math Comics ... a roundup from a surprisingly busy week of mathematics name-dropping.

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