On the outskirts

“On the outskirts” refers to a general location far from the center of town.

Today's story: Edward Hopper paintings
Explore more: Lesson #271
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On the outskirts

You guys are in for a treat, because this expression is easy. You might not know it; but once I explain, you’ll see it’s easy. The expression is “on the outskirts of”. It means, far from the center of a town or a city. If you look in a dictionary, you’ll see two definitions. One means, at the edge of a city. And if you believe that definition, that means “the outskirts” of a city is within city limits, but out near the border.

But another definition—and I think this is how most people use it—is a general location far from the center of town. It might be inside the legal boundaries of a city, but the important thing is that it’s far from the center.

Factories and warehouses are often located on the outskirts of a metropolitan area. Why on the outskirts? Well, the land is too expensive at the center of a city—and factories and warehouses aren’t allowed there anyway. If you build your factory in the middle of a farm somewhere, you might not have any workers. So it’s common to build on the outskirts of a metro area—far enough away from the center of town, but still connected to the area.

Some people prefer to live on the outskirts of town. Picture a smaller town, not a big city or metro area. In a smaller town, you probably have a center of town with a few shops and maybe small offices and businesses. The houses are closer together. But if you go a mile or two away, the houses are farther apart and the area quickly becomes more rural. The houses out there are on the outskirts of town—they’re far from the center, almost when the town turns into much more isolated farmland.

Edward Hopper was born in Nyack, New York, a town that is on the outskirts of New York City. It’s not part of New York City. It’s far from the center of town, but it’s still part of the New York area. It’s a suburb, north of the city. But if you much farther north than Nyack, you’re in a much different kind of an area. If you much farther north, you’re not really in the New York City area anymore. That’s why we say that Nyack is on the outskirts of New York City.

As people return to work, I think a lot of commuters won’t want to take public transit. That could lead to gridlock on the streets, as everyone who can drive begins to do so. The Automobile Association of Great Britain says that cities should set up park-and-cycle centers on the outskirts of town. They think people should drive their cars just until they get to the outskirts of town. Then they should switch to bicycles to get to their final destination.

If you live in Mexico City, or if you travel to the area on vacation, you might spend a day at Xochimilco. It’s a borough on the outskirts of Mexico City and it’s full of canals. You can take colorful flat-bottomed boats called trajineras around the canals; listen to the mariachi bands; and buy snacks as food vendors pass by in their small boats. It’s a great way to spend a day. This is a case where it’s within the federal district of Mexico’s capital—but it’s far enough away from the center to count, I think, as the outskirts. To get there, you take the subway to the very end of one line. Then you get out and get on another light-rail train and take that one all the way to the end of the line—and then you will be in Xochimilco, about a ten minute walk from where you can rent one of the boats. So if you want a nice daylong adventure away from the center of town, you can go to the outskirts of Mexico City and enjoy a day on the trajineras of Xochimilco.

JR’s song of the week

Today’s song of the week is “Washing of the Water” by the English singer and songwriter Peter Gabriel. It’s a bit of a departure from his typical style, but a good song. “Washing of the Water” by Peter Gabriel. You can always find the song of the week on Spotify. Just search “Plain English Playlist” and you’ll have hours of English songs from JR at your fingertips.

See you next time!

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Story: Edward Hopper paintings