Roads bustling with cars and lined with cafes set against the backdrop of commercial buildings and high-rises.
This is a picture that comes to my mind when I hear the word “downtown,” especially in a developed country, but neither my home city nor central Phoenix looks like this.
I am sitting on a cozy recliner on the roof of our apartment building, speaking to my friend from my home city Karachi. I am looking at the lights twinkling from buildings clustered around my neighborhood.
“You know, Sumaiyya, downtown Phoenix, is very different from our idea of a city life,” I tell her as I look at people appearing as tiny figures in a video game, coming in and out of the AMC theatre.
Back home, city life meant having malls and a variety of stores close by, or having places where you could stop on your way back from work.
It was never a straight ride back from work.
During the initial days in Phoenix as a student, city life meant walking to the university in the morning and then walking back, with frequent visits to Fry’s store mostly to buy onions and tomatoes, staple ingredients for Pakistani food.
Although many office buildings are located in downtown, people dressed up with formal wear with laptop bags hanging from their shoulders have been an uncommon sight on the roads and at rail stops.
Before I could ponder more over this, I was told “Phoenicians use cars more than public transport.”
But during these walks for errands, I did not know when the city life Phoenix has to offer grew on me. During my walks back home as evening stretched across the sky, I started cherishing the glow of the streetlights.
The sight of a couple holding hands or a group of friends laughing as they walked past became a source of comfort.
It was not until my visit to New York City during this period that I realized how I have grown comfortable with life in a city where the sound of footsteps and music from a distance felt more soothing than the hustle and bustle I was earlier used to.
With its sidewalks crowded with people and roads lined with cars, New York reminded me I no longer feel at ease in such an environment.
While walking down Polk Street one evening after returning from the gym, with a bag full of vegetables in my hands, I recalled how the pace and nature of my life was as simple as this when I was a child.
The days when a bicycle was my only mode of transportation in the neighborhood and gave me a sense of independence, and my daily source of entertainment was playing the street with neighborhood friends in the evening. And when going to the mall was only possible on weekends because that is when we could stay out late.
Although some things have changed, the rhythm of my life is more or less the same.
Much like my childhood days at home in Karachi, recreational activities take place in the evening, while going to the malls is often only possible on the weekend.
Once again, my only worry on the way back home is doing homework for the class.