Archives for posts with tag: City

The other day a friend of mine told me about the secret parking space he’s been using for over a decade. It’s a free, unmetered secret parking space. It’s in a major city in Ireland, right in the city centre.

You know these are gold-dust, right? It’s not just the convenience, the time-saving benefit and the lack of cost. It’s the knowledge, being in the know, having the inside track. My missus and I used to have a free spot in Dublin city centre, about 20 years or so ago. It was 5 minutes’ walk from Trinity College, which – if you don’t know your Dublin, is pretty darn central. Now development has absorbed it and it is no more.

I used the new secret parking space for the first time recently. It’s no more than 5 minutes from the thick of things. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a frisson of excitement using it. It’s like putting one over the system, legitimately. I wonder if it’s a small bit like being a member of a secretive club?

Passing the secret on to someone else is extending to them the bond of trust you only extend to a few chosen ones. Every additional person who knows about the secret parking space diminishes the chances of it being free the next time you want to use it. And if it’s like an Irish secret, which means you only tell one person at a time, then soon the network effect means that it’s no longer secret. Then it’s only a matter of time before the authorities close the loophole.

For now, though, it’s a precious commodity, with real, tangible value.


I had occasion to visit the city of Belfast recently. Despite living within the same landmass for about a dozen years out of the last 17, I had only gone through Belfast on the train and never stopped in it.

It’s a nice, compact city, with a thriving centre and rolling countryside a few minutes away in every direction. Some of the regenerated city centre areas are very swanky and everything seems simply a stone’s throw away.

The folk are very friendly, the food and drink is good and accommodation likewise – at least in my very limited experience.

Unfortunately, like a lot of city centres, the traffic is truly awful. I left – or tried to leave – the centre at about 5pm on a weekday. Admittedly this is the heart of the rush hour, but with the spur onto the motorway a few hundred metres from downtown, I was confident I could get away in a reasonable time.

How wrong I was. Belfast was Belslow. It took me 40 minutes to go 200 metres, the principal culprit being 2 complex junctions within 10 metres of each other which operated on the same traffic light rotation. The result: gridlock, with no-one able to advance everywhere. The pedestrians simply scooted between the cars, blissfully free of the large metallic impediments that I and my fellow drivers were saddled with.

So a great visit to the capital was somewhat soured by the appalling traffic, not helped by the fact that once I got onto the motorway I had another three and a half hours to go.

Once cities sort their private transport challenges out, then they’ll really be motoring.

One of the several things that I really like about where I live is that people say hello to you in the street. People you don’t know. Strangers.

I live in a small town – it would be considered a village in my native country – in the west of Ireland. It’s quite normal to say hello, smile, nod or exchange a view on the weather with people you don’t know a few times during a walk through the town. I really like it.

People are familiar with the friendly welcome of the Irish – cead mile failte, or a hundred thousand welcomes and all that – but I suspect you get this level of friendliness in all small places.

You don’t get this in a big city, at least in not a single one I’ve ever been to, and I’ve probably only been to a couple hundred in my life. People don’t make eye contact, their body language is self-protecting, they avoid making any kind of acknowledgement of your presence. Maybe this is because it feels like everything is transient, unsafe, or unfamiliar in a seething population, but to me it’s a pity. We’re social animals after all, and interaction with fellow humans improves our mood, most of the time.

Next time you’re out and about in a city, try saying hello to a couple of passers-by. Better still, when you’re in a city with an underground system, strike up a conversation with someone across from you, across the central walkway I call ‘the well of souls’. The looks you get can be hilarious:

‘What are you doing, talking to me? You’re breaking the code!”

‘What code?’

‘The unwritten code of the city. No talking to anyone you don’t know. Loser!’

Give me the kindness of strangers in small places any time.