I suppose surprise is all too rare. In order for cities to work their magic, you need great helpings of Jane Jacobs’ main ingredients, density and diversity. For many cities, that’s a tall order. Today’s suburban enclaves lack the connectivity or crossroads. There are no street corners where moments can occur, nothing to improve the odds of unexpectedness. Instead the most likely place for a chance encounter is your grocery store checkout line, where you're rushed by women behind you, harried by coupons, juggling cerealboxes. If by chance you see a friend while driving, you can only honk your horn and hope they don’t think you’re an asshole. Later you tell your friend that you spotted them on the onramp, and everyone looks at their shoelaces.
Yes, some parts of the city hold more surprises than others. Some parts of the city have a the requisite density and diversity, exceed the surprise threshold. I was reminded of this fact this weekend on the University of Minnesota campus. Along with downtown, the University is the densest part of my middlewestern burg. And if you ignore the fact that 2/3 of the people are between the ages of 17 and 22, Universities are diverse! There are people hanging around campus from every corner of the state, the country, and the world. There are clubs for most every activity, from the “Objectivism" cult to pre-pharmacy study groups to the unicycle society.
And sometimes, in the summer, if you walk around campus you’ll find clusters of uniformed drummers, vibraphonists, and sousaphone regalers on every street corner, creating a bizarre soundscape of beats and blurts ricocheting off every possible angle of each industrial alley.
That’s what happened the other day this weekend. There must have been some sort of marching band tournament or drum line competition going on at the stadium. Everyone was trying to find a patch of sidewalk where they could practice their jams. Walking the streets was fascinating. You turn a corner and there appear forty people in torquiose leggings. It was like Gangs of New York, but in a good way.
|[Sousaphones collect in the gutter.]|
|[White hats wait for heads.]|
|[Drummers and sunset.]|
|[I'm not sure what these people are trying to accomplish.]|
|[Thirty people with teal legs.]|
|[Dudes with mallets on the side of the road.]|
|[White men marching.]|
|[A John Deere-led vibraphone parade.]|
|[My favorite: a shirtless dude practicing drums alone in the vacant lot between the abandoned grain elevators.]|