Hay Vida En Las Calles

During my visit to Salento, Colombia, a beautiful town located in the foothills below the Andes Mountains and adjacent to the famous Cocora Valley, I picked up on a slogan that I found very endearing and memorable. “Hay vida en las calles” was posted on an advertisement on one of the vendors there who was dishing out ice cream, snacks, and other goodies. “Hay vida en las calles” translates to the English language as “There is life in the streets” and I found that to be a very positive sign and one that gets people out of their homes and into the parks, squares, and plazas where the basis of all community life is formed. While life in the streets cannot be found everywhere, I found this prevalent attitude consistent in many towns and cities during my travels in Latin America.

The emphasis on communal spaces and public gathering places is something I really admire about Latin culture and I find it to be a healthy feature of any society, which has strong communities and families. Being able to leave your homes every now and then to walk five minutes away to be in a public park or a town square should be natural and available to more and more of us.

As is well known in psychology and sociology, Human beings are social creatures and we want to be around other people even after we have had some alone time. In order to do so, responsible local, state, and national governments should provide that to their peoples in order to build more trusting and kind societies. In societies where people are isolated, lonely, and without opportunities to meet people and build new friendships, problems related to anxiety, depression, and even violence are likely to rise.

In countries such as the United States and other Western countries, statistics related to anxiety, depression, and loneliness are rising and part of the reason I think for the rise in these issues is related to not being able to gather and socialize in a public place. The atomization related to suburban living, the lack of public transportation options, and the decline of shopping centers all help to contribute to this rise in loneliness. I mention the closing of shopping malls because due to technology giants like Amazon, small businesses and large companies alike are closing their doors causing people to order anything from food to clothes to Amazon Echo from their homes.

While shopping malls and outlet stores aren’t an optimal way to build a sense of community, they still brought people together and were a place to hang out. The question remains regarding how will we replace these stores, strip malls, and outlet centers if they all go out of business? A revitalization of public places from small towns to big cities will not just be a prudent step forward but help societies deal with rising anxiety and loneliness rates. There should be life in the streets.

Whose responsibility should it be to encourage this kind of ‘life in the streets’? I believe it’s the local government combined with local businesses who can really make it work. Also, local community groups and organizations can play a big role in making sure everybody feels welcome and to promote activities, discussion groups, and issues in the community that need to be resolved. The average citizen living in the town or city can contribute to by hosting ‘block parties’ or contributing food or drinks. We ask our taxes to pay for roads, schools, and parks, but why not also a community gathering place, indoors or outdoors, where people can be social, discuss issues, and make new friends.

Without investing in our citizens by providing a ‘public square’, we are really selling ourselves short and it could hurt the fabric of our communities, towns, and cities in the long run. Without a way for people to interact and socialize with each other for free and without needing to buy anything, society as a whole can really benefit. It may sound like a ‘utopian’ idea to some but I think it makes a lot of sense in terms of the potential benefits to people’s mental health.

When I was in Salento, Colombia, for example, there were numerous food vendors, there was live music, and people were chatting with each other on benches. Children were playing in a nearby playground and the air was fresh and clean. The noise of the cars and the buses was off in the distance and it was a sea of calm where there were plentiful trees, flowers, and you could hear the birds chirping. People need that kind of space to gather, talk, listen to music, eat food, and watch their children play peacefully.

In my travels through Latin America in the past few years, I have seen this in multiple towns and cities where there is an emphasis on using the public squares for the public’s benefit. While this may not be a universal thing across the entire region, it is a priority here and one that I really appreciate coming from a culture where these gatherings are in decline. The good news should be that with greater effort and investment, we can bring the public spaces back again in the United States and elsewhere.

Further automation and loss of jobs in the retail and manufacturing sector is a tragedy and one worth acknowledging. My hope is that the loss of these retail and commercial spaces can be put to some good use and even lead to different kinds of jobs to take root, ones that are more social and that benefit people more, especially young children and the elderly. Being able to revitalize certain neighborhoods with greener public spacers where people can gather, eat, play, talk, and even dance would help curb the loneliness epidemic that we are seeing in Western societies. If there is life in the streets, people will show up and they will be better for it.

Part of the beauty of travel is seeing how other cultures value family and community life and make it a high priority. I believe that you can take these positive values from other cultures and place them within your own. It must involve buy-in though from the people themselves and they have to feel that it was the next step forward in improving their community. With the rise of automation and the closing of large shopping centers, we may be at the point in time where we can turn these empty buildings and useless parking lots into real gathering places in the future.

Without social interaction and a sense of community, people will suffer as a result mentally. This has been shown in many studies and in many surveys. I think it is part of who we are as social animals and being isolated in our homes and in our cars for 90% of the day will not make us healthier. For what I saw in Salento, Colombia a few years ago and what I have seen in other towns in Latin America, placing a high value on social life within these communities will make people feel a sense of togetherness and cohesion. A greater emphasis on community gatherings and social spaces would create a large ripple effect that would drastically improve the greater society, the country you’re in, and the world.

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Bosque de Chapultepec

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Location: Mexico City, Mexico

Bruges (Daytime)

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Bruges, Belgium

Bucaramanga

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia

Barichara

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Barichara, Santander, Colombia

El Salado

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Camera: Lenovo A2010

Location: Envigado, Antioquia, Colombia (Parque Ecological)

 

Walks In The Park

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“When seeking solitude, there is no better place than nature.”

With the constant temptations of technology, the Internet, endless entertainment options, and other distractions, it is all too easy nowadays to get caught up in work, school, and other commitments without ever taking time for yourself. It’s been scientifically and medically proven that your body and your mind need some time away from your daily stressors. It doesn’t have to be a long amount of time for solitude away from your home, or your workplace but just enough minutes or hours where you can re-charge your energy and re-capture your focus. When it comes to seeking out solitude and alone time, our options these days are becoming increasingly limited.

Some people choose yoga classes while other folks enjoy long workouts at the gym. While these activities in particular are healthy and enjoyable, they do not provide true solitude and quietness. Meditation can clear your head and allow you to control your thoughts better but it is not an active form of peace and serenity. For myself, to enjoy solitude, quiet, and a place to think; nothing truly beats a simple walk in the park for an hour or two. Clearly, I am not the first person to advocate for the joys and benefits of being in nature.

Henry David Thoreau, considered to be “the father of nature writing”, wrote many books including the famous novel, Walden, a reflection on the simplicities of living among nature in his cabin near Walden Pond in rural Massachusetts. In addition, his friend and fellow writer Ralph Waldo Emerson helped found the Transcendentalist movement partly due to the independence and intellectual stimulation, which he received from his retreats into the world of nature.

Whether you’re walking, jogging, running, or hiking in the park, it is going to be highly beneficial to you and your state of mind. It’s okay if you do it with a friend or a family member but it’s even better to do it by yourself. Taking a walk in the park or in the local nature preserve will allow you to clarify your thoughts, experience some solitude, and enjoy the world around you.

When you heed my advice from this blog post and decide to go for a walk in the park, remember to take the following steps before you go through with this idea:

  • Leave the iPhone, iPad, Laptop, MP3 player, and any other modern technological device at home. I know it can be really tempting to check your Twitter account or listen to the new Action Bronson album, but when you’re taking a walk through the park, this course of action is highly inadvisable. You’re there to observe nature, to listen to the birds’ chirping, to hear the bees buzzing, and to see the flowers begin to bloom in the springtime sunshine. If you wanted to be with your technological gadgets, the park is not the place to do that.
  • In the park or place of nature you go to, remember to find a part of the park that doesn’t have many or any people around. I write this piece of advice not to encourage you to be anti-social but to embrace a little bit of solitude in your life. A walk in the park will help you to focus your thoughts and clarify what you’re going through in your life. It’s refreshing and natural for people to be truly alone from time to time. This doesn’t mean you’re lonely and need someone to hang out with but that you’re using this walk or run in the park to concentrate and focus on the simple act of being in nature. Our distant ancestors did fine for themselves when they were on their own to hunt for animals or to gather food for their tribe. I think that you can survive on your own for an hour or two without needing any assistance or companionship.
  • When you’re on your walk or run in the park, it is important to go off the beaten path. There are set pathways and trails that you can follow in nature but it’s very enjoyable to go outside of your comfort zone instead by trying out new paths or walkaways that you have yet to discover. If there are certain areas of the park or preserve that you haven’t been to yet, go there! If there’s a massive hill or body of water in your path, don’t be afraid to hike over it or swim through it. The best adventures that a person can have are by taking the road not yet discovered or taken and that is true for other facets of life. Try to see and be in the new areas of the park that you haven’t been to yet. I promise that you won’t regret it later. You will be glad that you expanded your perception that you have of the natural park or preserve that you’re walking or running through.
  • Last but not least, please remember to take it all in. Spend some time just to admire the beauty of the sights that lie before you. If its’ a towering waterfall, a captivating sunset, or a stunning hillside view, remember to stop and just be present in the moment. It will be so quiet that you can hear the beating of your own heart and the sound of your own breath. You’re apart of nature just as nature is apart of you. As much as we try to avoid nature and natural living today, it’s still apart of whom we are as human beings. Nothing will change that and its’ apart of our nature since the early days of the hunter-gatherers. You only have one life to live and the more time you spend in natural settings, the better off you’ll be.

In conclusion, instead of that Sunday afternoon you spend at the bar watching your favorite sports team or at home catching up on the latest Netflix series, why not go to your local park instead? Do some walking or some jogging and eventually rest your legs to sit down at the nearest park bench. Take in the sights, sounds, and even the smells to remind yourself that there is more to life than just work or school. You’re apart of this world and the world is apart of you.