Urban Paradise

A day in the life of a city

New York City's Setting Sun

The morning sun pokes its head over the horizon and gazes longingly at what it sees. Lying in front of it, a city sleeps. Its streets lie empty and its church bells hang sedately. And yet a crisp anticipation is in the air; a buzzing electricity. The air shimmers in the ever increasing glowing light. It shall soon awake.

Alarm clocks begin to ring out throughout the city and simultaneously the sound of a thousand groans follow them. For many they can simply reach out a hand, so trained now they no longer need to look, and slam the snooze button. But for the hundreds of school children they have another alarm which can never be snoozed.

Parents.

Bleary eyed school children wait silently at the bus stop, the horror of the thought of yet another day etched in their faces. Their blazers wrap tightly around them, restricting their movements, and their ties provide a constant irritation to their necks. The younger years can at least look forward to being able to meet their friends but the older ones have no such hope. Those days are long gone; the word ‘fun’ erased from their dictionaries. Their only companions are hard work and effort. Their backpacks hang low from the endless loads of homework that their relentless teachers inflict on them. Exams loom large on the horizon. For many they are already wishing for the end of the day. Bus drivers race through the streets, hoping beyond hope that they might this morning miss the school rush. But alas, once again, hundreds of teenagers crowd onto the bus like sardines. One day they whisper to themselves one day.

After Work Rush Hour

Down in the subway, the turnstiles begin to spin as the rush hour begins. Sharply dressed men and women slip into their Mercs and Jags, feeling good that they can cruise to work in style. That is until they hit the morning traffic jam with the rest of us and their V8 engines are confined to a crawl. Offices lurch into life – there is money to be made here; bread to be won. This is not the time for slacking off or cracking jokes. Those who so sluggishly woke up in the morning are suddenly bursting with life and energy. Promotions and pay raises can be won for those who seek them and doesn’t everyone know it. Coffee after coffee is chugged down as the intensity rises. Nobody wants to be caught out.

The sun reaches its highest point and begins its gradual slide down back to earth. Now the clock is ticking down. The hours turn into minutes. Hope rises in the hearts of employees and schoolchildren everywhere. The time is coming and nothing will deny it. Head teachers can’t stop it and managers can’t delay it. Home time. Escape. Freedom.

The bell rings and school children flood out, roaring in delight. Cars race on the hard, asphalt roads; blue, green and red flashes streaking by. Now the restaurants can at last prepare their tables. The city centre is about to come to life. Streams of people flow in and soon the streets are buzzing. The sound of warm chatter fills the air and there is an atmosphere of relaxation as people enjoy the cool evening. Cinemas swell to accommodate people and those hung over pubs have cleaned themselves up and are ready to serve their customers. At home an unstoppable force attracts people to the TV – whether it is the big match or seeing if they finally get together or just to see what is happening in the world. All are drawn and for a couple hours all you will get out of them are grunts and groans. Kids go to bed and finally parents can cuddle up on the sofa and just enjoy each other and that beautiful thing called silence. Life slows right down for everyone now; a warm, fuzzy lethargy comes over us as we slip into our snug beds. The soft satin hugs us tight as our eyelids begin to droop. As they do their minds begin to whir; thinking deeply of this urban paradise.

Paradise. This is what the city has brought. A perfect amalgamation that fulfils all our needs. Our homes to protect us; our jobs to give us purpose; our family to share life with. So many things to entertain us – Cinemas, theatres, restaurants. It is designed so wonderfully; everything fits together in harmony. It is a logistical wonder – that so many people can live together in one place and all can find true happiness and peace. At no other time in history has man had everything it needed within an arm’s reach. This is the pinnacle of civilisation, surely?

Nightclubs dust their doors down, they have waited all day for their moment. Students throng in, looking for a good time, to forget their laborious hours in the library. The bright lights flash inside but outside things are changing.

Night falls. Blackness descends. Gangs hang round every corner. Like deathly shadows they stand motionless in the cold night; waiting for the vulnerable. A drunk stumbles down the street; thrown out by his missus. Beer bottle still in hand, he crashes to the floor and curls up for the night. The dazzling street lights mean that, though the sky is clear, the stars are invisible; their soothing light erased from the black, murky skies. Cold and Frost roam in the impenetrable darkness. Without remorse they extract the warmth from the tortured souls that are trapped outside. They shiver but all they feel are Frost’s cold fingertips running down their backs. In the darkness the broken neighbourhood looks even more dangerous. They are putrefying and decaying; falling apart. And yet they are neglected more than ever. A young girl shivers as she walks by the derelict shops scarred with graffiti. She knows it is dangerous out here but if she goes home she knows her father will beat her again.

Graffiti alley at night

A homeless man sits on the street. He’s been there since morning; in that exact same place for 24 hours except now he wraps a thin blanket around himself and prepares himself to sleep. Has anyone noticed him? Perhaps a few gave a customary glance but most are lost in their routine – lost in their own little world that they have created. Lost in their own paradise.

The winds pick up and the man tucks himself in and closes his eyes. But the image on the back of his eyelids is the same he has seen all day. Blackness. Darkness. Hopelessness. No one sees him. Whether it is the rich rushing round their busy lives, trying to achieve the materialistic dream that society says they should aim for. Or the poor who wander round aimlessly, searching for meaning in a life that seems so cruel – far too caught up in their problems to care about another’s. He is the invisible man. Society’s reject. Like garbage thrown out onto the side of the road, he sits there slowly wasting away.

Silence covers the city like a blanket. For once it is resting, peaceful. There is nothing going on; the streets are empty. Once this landscape was just rolling countryside; wild and untamed. Over the centuries we have gradually fashioned it into our home, building a metropolitan wonder from these once grassy lands. From humble beginnings of basic housing to the towering skyscrapers of today, it has grown and developed. Its call and attraction is stronger than ever. Now more of the world’s populations live in cities than in rural areas and many more are migrating in hope of a better life. Will they find it?

The moon shines bright, high in the sky. But it is slowly beginning to fall. And as it does a city waits to go through it all again.

Sunrise

 


 

Image 1 – New York City’s Setting Sun by Anthony Quintano, CC BY 2.0

Image 2 – After Work Rush Hour by Andreas, CC BY-SA 2.0

Image 3 – Graffiti alley at night by AshtonPal, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image 4 – Sunrise by Bruce Irschick, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0