The Joys of Density: a Blogging Bird Reminds Us Why We Love Cities

By Karen Steen
May 3, 2011
Image by Terri Chang

The back window of our office here at SPUR looks out on a building with an entertaining tenant, a green Pacific Parrotlet who has free range of his studio apartment and an impressive collection of plastic toys. After observing his activities, we became curious about our feathered neighbor and Tweeted him the old-fashioned way. We taped a note up in the window:

Hi green bird!
We think you’re awesome.
What’s your name?

He responded quickly with his own sign:

Hello SPUR
I am Rico, a 7-month-old male Pacific Parrolet
(they call me Parrolito)

We replied with a new note:

Rock on, Rico!
We like your style.
- Your fans @ SPUR

Rico’s next note informed us that he had a blog, where he had posted about our fandom.

The conversation ended just as quickly as it had begun, like so many of the brief yet intense interactions we have in the city: celebrating the Giants’ World Series win with strangers in a bar, or joking with the other riders on Muni. But — as with those random human encounters — the story of our exchange with Rico lived on, earning laughs at parties and likes on Facebook.

Why do small moments like this move us? Because they remind us that life is more than daily stresses and frustrations. Wordlessly, Rico continues to entertain us with his voyages up and down his rainbow-colored Slinky, making us laugh even when we’re working on difficult issues like the future of redevelopment or the coming of sea level rise.

As urbanists, we can’t help but see our friendship with Rico as a solid argument for the joys of density. In the suburbs, a note in the window would creep out the neighbors: Communication that direct invades the privacy cultivated by fences and hedges. In urban centers, however, we show respect by acknowledging, rather than ignoring, one another. It is only in densely developed areas that we get close enough — up in each other’s windows enough — to regularly share our humanity with strangers. Even when they’re birds.