SHORT #17: The Barber's Wife
there are compassionate cities and oppressive cities, but is it all about design?
Hello again! It has been more than a few weeks, hasn’t it? To be honest, Suhee and are in the process of moving from Japan to Korea and, given the continued border restrictions that process has been … an adventure? That is a nice way to put it. For now we are over the ridge it seems. Maybe more on that in a future writing here, or somewhere else.
At any rate, thanks for hanging in there with me and please enjoy the story and illustration, another one from our beloved alley in Osaka!
It had just started to rain when the barber’s wife came knocking on our front door. She slid the door open before I had a chance to get there; poked her head inside.
“Sorry for the bother, but it’s raining.” she motioned her eyes up, toward the balcony. “Your laundry.”
“Ah! Thank you!” I said, and with that the barber’s wife smiled and hurried back down the alley. She took in her own towels, and I ran upstairs to do the same with our laundry.
Neither Suhee nor myself have ever been to the barber shop for a cut, but we often say hello to the couple who run it. In any case, we both look out for the rain and each other’s drying lines.
This neighborhood was built in a time when it was normal for sometimes-nagging-but-generally-compassionate neighbors to look out for each other. This is a cultural view. But it is one that is not necessarily Japanese. It exists in cultures around the world. In this neighborhood — as in the old neighborhoods of Venice or Paris or Hong Kong or [insert your favorite old and beautiful city] — such a cultural view is reflected in the design, with individual houses closely clustered together, where one can sit at their home office or in the kitchen with a cup of tea, and take in the sights and sounds of the common alley. Here there are no alarm systems, there are no CCTV cameras, and we often leave our door unlocked.
In looking at the design of this neighborhood then, it is easy to spot elements of compassionate design—human scale, a diversity of uses and users, pedestrian friendliness—that might encourage the barber’s wife to notify us of the rain. Likewise, in and around other neighborhoods where I have lived, it is easy to spot elements of oppressive design—grandiose scale, gated and walled developments, big brother surveillance systems—that discourage such actions.
Compassionate design is important. At the same time however, we should note that compassionate cities take a bit more work to achieve. They are more than a design, but a sense of who we are, not only as humans in a neighborhood or in a city, but as humans on this earth in this universe. In this sense, the attitude and power of the people toward each other and their environments can handily subvert the design of their neighborhood.
In what sense then, do we want to live here?
As I hang the last of the socks and towels inside, I catch sight of others in the apartment tower a few blocks away, scrambling do the same. Suddenly, I think I know the sense. It is the one that reminds us, somehow, that we are all in this ‘life’ thing together.
If we all look out for each other, perhaps we can trust that it is possible for both compassionate design and compassionate cities to flow from here.
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