“Simple” + “Satisfying”: Big city life

My previous post on the topic of Simple and Satisfying layouts generated some really great commentary by readers. Thank you! (And if you haven’t had a chance to read it, go do that now and be sure to read through the comments. Don’t worry: I’ll wait until you get back…)

I had a fair bit of time this weekend to think further about the perception held by many in the hobby that smaller, simpler layouts are something we build because we’re somehow reining in our hobby ambitions – that we’re “settling” for less and that we would all build larger, complex layouts if only we had the time, space, and funds available.

I think this perception ignores the reality that many people – myself included – opt for a lifestyle in which our hobby plays a positive and supporting role, but it’s not the centre of our universe. Here’s how the hobby fits into my life, and why a smaller, simpler layout is a choice – not something that represents a thwarted ambition.

It starts with this:
Toronto Skyline photo Toronto_Skyline_May_2013_zpsdc98d788.jpg

I live in Toronto – right in the downtown. Given the year in municipal politics that we’ve just endured, I’m sure everybody has heard of the city by now. But if you haven’t, it’s the fourth largest city in North America and one of the most diverse places anywhere on the planet. Toronto has a vibrant cultural and social scene – whether it’s restaurants, music, art, theatre, sports, festivals, or any other criteria you care to use.

It’s no surprise that we also have really, really expensive real estate. It’s not expensive like New York, London, or Paris – but for model railway enthusiasts, anywhere on the planet, living in the heart of a metropolis means acquiring space for a layout does not come cheap. One answer for hobbyists who want a bigger train room is to move to the suburbs or to small towns. In fact, many people do choose their living arrangements based on the needs of their hobby – we’ve all read their stories in the hobby press.

I actually have not one, but two good reasons to look for property out of town. That’s because in addition to being a model railway enthusiast, I have two Border Collies. They will be quick to tell you that one thing we don’t have in downtown Toronto is sheep. They think that’s a real oversight on our part. I do too some days, because it means that twice per week, I drive for an hour on one of Canada’s busiest highways so that I can work my eldest dog, Mocean, on sheep:
Everybody's settled photo 25acbb85.jpg

We love doing it – so much so, that we even considered moving to the country so I could be closer to the place where we train. I even worked out that the gas I would save each week would pay for a third lesson. And with real estate more affordable in the country, I could have a larger layout room, too.

(I might even have a larger circle of train buddies within easy striking distance. I don’t know: But I do know that there are very few hobbyists who live downtown like I do. It’s one of the reasons that Toronto has a number of venerable model railroad clubs: joining a club was the only way one could afford the space for a large layout in the city. It’s also one of the reasons why a few years ago, a well-known train store that had served Toronto for decades closed its doors and consolidated its operations at a second store that it had recently acquired in a bedroom community to the north of the city: The hobby shop simply followed its clientele to the suburbs.)

But my hobbies help define who I am: they don’t control my life. Here’s why I’m still an urban-dweller:

I enjoy the energy and opportunities that come with living in the heart of a big city. I love that my wife can walk to work from our house. (She works long hours as it is: If she had to commute from the country I wouldn’t see her at all.) I love being able to walk to shop for almost anything: I have an awesome store in my neighbourhood for music, an electronics surplus shop with an amazing supply of widgets, several great new and used bookstores, a wonderful tailor, and an abundance of fantastic places to eat and drink – something that regular readers know from the various dinner reports I’ve shared. I love that almost every store that does not sell food welcomes my dogs – and many keep a supply of cookies for their four-legged customers.

If it means that my layout room is in a modest space, in a narrow basement with ductwork that presents vertical clearance issues that preclude double-decking a layout… well, that’s all part of life in the big city. It’s all part of a choice I’ve made about where – and how – I want to live.

I’m not “settling” for a smaller layout until I can acquire the space for a larger one: My wife and I could sell our house tomorrow and buy that big train room in the country. But it’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

And I’m happy for people who do make that choice. We all have different priorities. I’m not advocating in this post – or on my blog – that my choices are the best approach for all hobbyists: Just the best choices for me. And I am advocating that others in the hobby – particularly those better-known modellers who have some influence – also recognize that their personal choices do not translate into trends or best practices that everyone should embrace.

3 thoughts on ““Simple” + “Satisfying”: Big city life

  1. Ah, George’s Trains. My dad taught chemistry at Ryerson and one summer when I was 13 or 14, I convinced him that he should take me downtown with him and I would walk up to George’s, spend my hard-earned allowance and walk back. If he blinked, I didn’t notice. I remember that day so clearly.

    My wife and I are also enjoying the big-city life even though I’ve had to put the trains away for a bit. Saturday was a classic day here in Amsterdam: an afternoon classical concert at the Concertgebouw, a nice glass of wine with friends at a nice wine bar, then dinner out.

  2. My hobby complements my work, I have a fairly stressful job, so I relax with a simple layout.
    I also choose to live an urban life, albeit in a small seaside town, and find it relaxing to go for walks along the beach with my dog. That is also the time when I do my thinking!
    I was born and raised in the countryside. It is not an idyllic life when you get to a certain age in life and you get dependent on others.
    As you say, it’s your choice, not someone else telling you what you should do, and that is the same for me.

  3. Hi Trevor. I’ve been meaning to comment on your blog for months now and this posting did it. I do live in the country (work downtown) and although we have a largish house I only have a (ex)bedroom for my layout. We enjoy developing our large yard and spend as much time as possible exploring the coast on our boat during the summer. The model railway is a winter hobby for me and I have to fit it into a fairly busy life at the moment. I haven’t pursued a larger layout because I’m not sure I’ll finish the small one in this lifetime. Besides I’m having a lot of fun in 11′ x14′ and assuming I do “finish” this one I can start another one without feeling it would be overwhelming.

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