I have no idea how I came across it, but a couple of days ago I read Cities and Ambition by Paul Graham (Kindles are made for essays, by the way). In it, Graham argues that cities (or at least great cities) send a message. He writes:
New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.
What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you’ve been meaning to.
When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers. As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful.
He goes on. Fifteenth century Florence nurtured painters. LA likes fame, Washington insiders, Paris culture.
I haven’t lived in many cities, but whenever I visit a place I’m fascinated at trying to discover its character. I think listening for the message might be the best way to do that.
Victoria asked for some combination of insider-ism and aristocracy, and I’m not sure which was dominant. I’ve not lived in Vancouver, but the message I get from it is definitely money. Wuhan, China may have been too foreign for me to pick up on, but it certainly felt like it was “you should have more stuff.” People were discovering consumerism in a big way, and it was a city made up of new city dwellers.
And Prince George? “Big. Your stuff should be bigger.”
Everything here is about size. We’re constantly expanding construction. And when we do, we’re building ever-bigger McMansions. Bigger yards are better. When we were looking for houses, most realtors would show off the size of the yard, saying “lots of space for your toys”– meaning, of course, ATVs, motorboats, and other big vehicles.
Big box stores, big trucks, big nature to get out into, big snowblowers to clean out big driveways. There’s a growing cohort of people looking for something different, particularly in the downtown, but you’re kidding yourself if you think big isn’t the dominant message. Money comes primarily from resource-based industries, and goes primarily to big things.
I don’t know how I feel about that message. I don’t think I’ve bought into it, but I do have a bigger house than I grew up in, even if I don’t have a big vehicle in the driveway. I have a big yard, even if it is for gardens rather than power vehicles.
I’m curious if other people get the same message as me? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or fire me message @akurjata.
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