Saturday, February 14, 2015

The importance of Romance in the built walking environment

Couples take a romantic stroll in the park of my
mom's hometown of Bad Kissingen, Germany.
The date was going exceptionally well.  The summer evening was warm but comfortable.  She and I were lucky enough to score a table outside at a restaurant in Freehold's historic downtown.  As we dined al fresco our conversation became more animated and more flirty.  There was definitely a chemistry between us but every five minutes our conversation was interrupted with a  deafening BBBBBRRRRRRAAAAAAAPPPPPP
PPPPPPPP!!!!!!!   of a Harley Davidson or other extremely LOUD motor vehicle who's owner felt the need to showoff.  It became so annoying that the cruising noise became just as memorable as the date.  We both had to just stop our conversation in mid sentence for tens of seconds at a time.  And as we both had parents from Europe (she from Greece and I from Germany) and both of us have visited the Old World numerous times, we both noted that our romantic evening together would never be so rudely interrupted in any restaurant over there.

After dinner we went for a stroll together.  Unfortunately with in a block or two, the scenic downtown gave way to an ugly if not downright scary surface parking lot where her car was parked.  It was clear that our stroll would go no further.  Still, we flirted some more until we both locked eyes, pulled each other close and passionately kissed each other goodnight, right underneath the sodium vapor lights and next to the stinky garbage dumpster.  UGHH!  Not exactly the most romantic place for two lovers to share their first kiss.  Kind of no surprise then that our relationship didn't go anywhere (admittedly it was my fault).

Couples stroll and window shop in the car-
free Medieval center of Bad Kissingen.
By contrast I am always amazed by how romantic my mom's hometown of Bad Kissingen, Germany is every time that I return.  There, even the most hopeless romantic can't screw up!  Granted it was rebuilt by the King of Bavaria in the 19th Century, the Romantic Period, to be the Royal Bavarian Spa Resort but nowhere that I've been to in New Jersey and very few in the entire U.S. can come close to its romantic appeal.  Today, Bad Kissingen survives as a spa and resort town but its 19th Century Romantic glory is not lost in today's hectic world.  Even though I've been coming here every other year since early childhood, I have no problem walking for hours in this beautiful town, day after day.  It is clear that the "lure of the stroll" is not lost on the thousands that visit here each year and those that call Bad Kissingen home.  As a spa and "kurstadt" (cure town in English), walking is often part of the treatment so keeping the town romantically walkable has long been part of the design of the town (a ring-road takes loud through-traffic around town, gates prevent through-traffic from crossing town and most of the old town is totally closed to cars).

Unfortunately, back home in New Jersey, I find it so difficult to find anyplace that has the capability to provide hours of romantic strolling as my mom's hometown.  Yes, places like Princeton, Lambertville, Ocean Grove and Montclair offer romantic opportunities but usually after 15 minutes to a half-hour of strolling the opportunities just seem to peter out.  And rarely does one find that perfect place to give that special new love a VERY memorable first kiss.  You got to make it memorable, right?

Lovers sit before the spectacular rose garden in the center of Bad Kissingen.  This is
just one of a hundred places in Bad Kissingen that would make for a memorable first kiss.

The lesson here?  There is more to a great walking environment than just sidewalks and crosswalks.  Places need to be beautiful if not downright romantic to truly succeed.  Whimsey needs to be celebrated and not lambasted as a costly extravagance.  On this Valentines Day lets not forget that love is often the product of beauty, as much as beauty is the product of love.

The view of Manhattan from Hoboken's Pier C Park is great place to seal
that great first date with a kiss.  He/she is sure to not forget it.

And yes, there is still hope for New Jersey.  Hoboken's Pier C Park, lambasted for cost overruns and delays is a truly world class park.  Even on a cold winters night like that when the photo above was taken, it is still a great place to give that special someone a great memorable kiss.

Go for a walk tonight and find a good spot for a romantic kiss.  Feel free to share your romantic spots to walk and smootch.  I've got to run myself.  Don't want to be late for my date.


Frank Warnock said...

Excellent piece, Andy. If you ever get a chance someday, visit Radburn NJ, where I grew up. It just doesn't get any more romantic. The entire focus was on relegating cars to out of sight and out of mind. And this was in the late 1920s.,_New_Jersey

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Andrew J. Besold said...

Thanks Frank. It's a shame that this wasn't picked up by Streetsblog USA. I'd been thinking of writing this piece for over a year and thought at the last second that what better day to release it than Valentines Day. The mistake I made was not getting it out a day or two before. I wanted to be the guy that introduced the idea of Romance back into urban planning.

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