Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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Archive for December, 2008

Bangkok Who?

Monday, December 29th, 2008

I came to Thailand initially to travel, like most people I guess, and decided to stay and teach English for a while, like many more, and finally decided to come back and study, like virtually no one. I’ve been here studying for a few months and I now see why no one comes here to study.

I am relatively young still, though soon to move into Florida’s ‘Young Professions’ category, and had not yet taken on the task of deciding what, and where, to study. Until recently when I decided that as I liked Bangkok so much I might as well just study here, anything, I had put off for several post-high school years what I knew was important to my future, getting some type of education.

This is truly a case of place trumping all other concerns as I unconsciously ignored all negative research results and advice when considering the move to Bangkok for school. But I just love Bangkok, and decided that I ought to be able to get some gainful education here.

It’s at one and the same time a wonderful city and a terrible city. Most of the city’s ills are born of the internal combustion engine: traffic, smog, noise. Never have I sat in traffic as I have in Bangkok, and according to the old timers it’s worlds better than it was a decade or more ago. And try talking on a cell phone on any given Bangkok street and the huge diesel bombs and high-pitched two-stroke screams drown out most of the conversation. And a good month in the city always seems to leave me with an ailment akin to smoker’s lung, a condition I dub ‘Bangkok Throat’. Don’t touch or lean up against anything outdoors either, it’s coated in layers of black soot despite perpetual efforts by cleaning crews.

Aside from these problems and the problems many of its residents have in making a decent living, Bangkok has a lot to offer, especially to someone coming from a more prosperous economy, as it can be very affordable and there are a lot of good deals to be had.

Thai cuisine is of course world famous and there’s no Thai food in the world like Thai food in Thailand. Thai culture is also unique and resilient to the domineering Western culture that eats up so many less resistant cultures worldwide. Thai people, while at times opportunistic and ambitious, are indeed warm, friendly and welcoming. They’re also adverse to outright displays of hostility or violence, and Thai society and Bangkok in particular are very safe, especially for foreigners. Thai society must rank extremely high on Florida’s Bohemian-Gay index as well, as anyone who’s been to Thailand will note, there aren’t many places in the world with gender lines as fluid as in Thailand.

These points of attractiveness hold for the whole of Thailand, but there are many things particular to Bangkok that make it a really special place. It comes in dead last, but still makes it onto the world mega-regions list in Who’s Your City?, and it’s home to about 20 million people.

The core of the city is a mash-up of a few different financial districts full of skyscrapers, high rises and malls home to international chains and high end shopping, cut up by busy streets and light rail transport lines, mixed into that are smaller garden-like neighborhoods some ethnic in segregation like Chinatown and an Indian town with historic period buildings and traditional Thai buildings and temples, as well as the governmental and Royal seat and all their ornate buildings, surrounded by a myriad of outlying shanty towns and non-grid warrens all tied together by tight canals and bordered on the far west side of the city by a large river with its own particular maritime culture.

The city almost seems to be founded on outdoor dinning and night living and there is a deep rooted street culture that is at once typical of Asia but also unique in the quality of cheap food on offer anywhere, at all times of the day and night, as well as to the extent that one can really buy just about anything from impromptu street stalls throughout the city.

As for the arts and aesthetics, there are many venues for performance arts, both classical/cultural and modern/musical, as well as clubs and bars to suit all tastes. Not to mention a number of non-conventional ‘entertainment’ venues that range from saunas and massage spas to what I’d euphemistically call sensual exhibitions. Here again, the city must be somewhere near the top on the Gay index.

There are also a number of parks in the city, some with cultural significance, all well maintained, in which to enjoy the year long warm weather.

A number of areas in the city have a distinct character and there are always shows to see, places to visit and relax in, great food to be had, busyness and excitement on the streets, all on the cheap an all distinctly Thai.

But, back to the original plan, to study. I’ve long been a fan of Bangkok, so when I came back a few months ago and started school, my initial impression of the school wasn’t too great. Disorganized, not professional, not as advertised. This was supposed to be an international school, entirely in English, recognized abroad. But the school turned out to be merely a department in a large Thai university, a very small department.

My feelings changed briefly after the first course, taught by an American professor, wherein I learned some of the finer points of English syntax and sentence structure, but again I was let down when my next class turned out to be ‘English Pronunciation’. Needless to say, this isn’t something I expect to be taught at university. This turned out to be as elementary as what I taught high school students during my three month stint as an English teacher here in Thailand three years ago.

Confidence busted, I’ve decided that, as much as I love Bangkok for all it’s soot and noise and smells and great food and beautiful areas and nice people, and as much as I want to stay, the advice I received was probably right on: a Thai education is useful in Thailand, but your diploma isn’t worth much outside of Thailand.

So, I’m looking for a new city to study in, a place with good schools that will hopefully accept at least a few of my Thai credits, a city open to different types of people, hopefully with a strong Asian feel to it, one high in openness, one high on the Bohemian-Gay index, one with at least mild weather much of the year, one somewhat affordable.

Any ideas? San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle?

Sent by B from Bangkok

Washington, D.C.

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Like many who graduated from my college, I got a job in Washington, D.C. I moved here 4 years ago and the difference between where I live now and where I am originally from, a rural-suburban area, is staggering. There are a lot of both good and bad things about living here, and whether you like it here or not depends on what is important to you as a person. I will start with the good things. First, there are a lot of stable jobs here. As the seat of the federal government, DC may lead the country in job stability. In addition, many people work for contractors who pay more, but while any given job is unstable, the contract is likely to stay in the DC area, and many contractors migrate from company to company to follow the contract.

The DC metro area has 3 airports, including 1 major international airport, making it easy to get anywhere in the US, Europe or certain other parts of the world. Another plus is the high average salary and education levels. Arlington, which belonged to DC proper until 1846, has the highest rate of people with graduate degrees in the US. There’s also a lot to do here with the monuments, museums, sports teams and restaurants, plus there’s a lot of free stuff to do. There is a thriving night life and the city is rich in international culture.

However, there are quite a few negatives to living in the DC area. The traffic is the second worst in the US. Public transportation is inadequate, as are the number of good roads leading into downtown DC from Maryland. The majority of the city itself has a crime problem and appears run down. There is a very high cost of living. Many people deal with this by buying houses 15-50 miles outside the city and commuting (which can mean 5 hour commutes round trip). The city is very political, which extends to almost every aspect of life. I do not find people here particularly friendly; they seem to be rather cliquish. The nightlife is pervasive, leaving young adults not into that scene to feel like outcasts. Everybody seems busy all the time, and everything is always rush rush rush.

Also, despite what certain magazines may say, DC is a bad city for singles. It is difficult to form a meaningful bond or connection with people, possibly due to the high stress/rush/cliquish mentality, so that people can’t spend true quality time with each other. Some of these factors tend to affect other areas of life. The DC area has a lot of workaholics. With the emphasis on work, there are many 2 income households. The problem this creates is that the average household income is high, which drives up the cost of living, and singles often can’t compete. On a recent search, I found that houses in a safe neighborhood started at 100,000, an amount too high for most singles to pay. Since it is a bad place for singles, one can not expect to meet and marry someone anytime soon to help with mortgage payments. This is why people tend to live in far off suburbs or even exurbs.

I recently polled the people in my office on living situations and found everyone fit into one of two groups: young people who had roommates who rented and lived close to the city, and middle aged/older people who had houses, but who lived at least 15 miles away from downtown, giving them a bad commute. This was not a choice, it was mandated by cost of housing. Overall, I would say that DC is a good place for Type A, driven, career oriented people. However, if your focus is on your family, it’s probably not the best place.

Sent by Mark from Washington, D.C.

Lexington Isn’t So Bad…

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

I graduated from the University of Kentucky here in Lexington. I had always told myself I would leave as soon as possible but wouldn’t ya know it a job came my way that I could not turn down. I moved from the “suburbs” of Lexington, about 6 miles from the heart of the city (nothing is actually very far from the city because Lexington is so small, but I promise traffic makes it seem a lot further, that’s another story) to a one-bedroom apartment in the epicenter of our small downtown. It is almost a night and day difference which may surprise people. I literally live one block from my office so I rarely drive which is a RARE occurrence in this city (I believe we have the largest carbon footprint per capita of any city in the US, I blame that on the people who live in the surrounding counties because it is cheap and work in Lexington). Downtown has restaurants upon restaurants like you wouldn’t believe, French, steak houses, American, Thai, Mexican, Italian, hot dog stands, bistros, delis, bakeries, it is almost ridiculous. I still haven’t been to nearly all of them and I have worked and lived downtown for nearly 6 months. We have a farmers market every Saturday that takes up an entire city block. Of course for those of you who do not follow collegiate athletics we have the Kentucky Wildcats who are two blocks away. Most people understand that in college towns night life is a big deal and I live within walking distance of any and all relevant night life spots, oh and I pay barely 30% of my total income (which is actually better than it seems because I have little to no transportation costs) for rent, live on the 9th floor of a 20-story apartment building with a balcony looking west (the only real view of Downtown Lexington).

Here are the problems.

I graduated with a degree in Landscape Architecture. I was told from the start to leave Lexington because there were no good design jobs here or in this state for that matter. I lucked into my job as an Urban Planner with a firm that is based in Atlanta and is unlike any other opportunity in Lexington. That said, not only does Lexington lack good creative jobs the jobs they do have are in these nondescript office parks halfway out of the county. No one wants to move downtown then drive back out of town to work? At least no one my age, they would rather live cheap and travel cheap for the most part which is kind of sad because downtown has so much to offer.

The politics here are uber conservative. They talk a liberals game but have the walk of someone straight off George Bush’s farm. They are however starting to turn it around.

Lexington provides a landscape unlike any other in the entire world. The bluegrass for those who don’t know is a world class landscape with some of the most beautiful pastoral views and the most luxurious horse farms imaginable all within 15 minutes of downtown.

THAT said, living costs are too high, driven by the University and old historic neighborhoods. It is very hard to find cheap, nice living which leads to people wanting to expand our urban growth boundary (the first of its kind – I think it was 1954 when it was put into effect?)… expanding our urban growth boundary ruins that pastoral landscape everyone loves… So what is more important – cheap housing or irreplaceable land? We will see. Lexington is in dire need of some changes up top especially within the planning realm and I think they are starting to happen which excites me.

I feel like moving here and planning to stay here is similar to buying a stock cheap; Lexington is not worth a whole lot as far as being compared to other cities I would like to live in but the potential is boundless.

Sent by Louis from Lexington, KY

Looking at the Southwest… Albuquerque, for One

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

My husband and I are creative types who’ve lived in the less-than-creative area, Grand Rapids, Mich., and its greater metro area, West Michigan. We are not alone in this belief. We do, however, enjoy the walkability of many of the areas neighborhoods.Also, we want to leave cold, snowy winters for an arid, temperate climate. We’d prefer to be in a large metropolitan area, yet I’m not reading about any places in the warmer regions of the Southwest as places considered to be great for creatives. In the maps section, there is the Mega-region of Tucson-Phoenix, yet neither city is mentioned specifically as great for creatives. Could it be because they are major victims of urban sprawl? Also, does anyone have an experience with Albuquerque? Is it a good place for creative types who really need to live outside rigid boxes and social norms? Any other suggestions? We would consider small towns. Thank you very much for any suggestions.

Sent by Annieo from Grand Rapids, MI

Dubai

Friday, December 5th, 2008

I live in a magical city where people from all over the world come to build things – to build the tallest towers, to build their bank accounts, to rebuild their life after living in places with unstable governments/few jobs, etc. Sitting in my apartment I see the ocean and infamous Palm island to my left, a camel racing course to my right and loads of towers under construction due north. When I tell Americans I live in the Middle East, some think I’m crazy (images of conflict and wars fill their minds), but when I say I live in Dubai, their response is the complete opposite: “Dubai, you mean the place with indoor skiing?” “Dubai, the place with man made islands in the shape of the world!” “Dubai, the place that has crazy parties at the Atlantis in the midst of a world economic meltdown.” “Dubai, where the hotels are hot, along with the people that visit them.”

I say yes:”Dubai, the place where I hear more Hindi and Tagalog than Arabic.” “Dubai, the place where laborers bust their tails to make our magnificent playground.” “Dubai, the place where shopping malls are filled with women in glitzed out abayas next to chics in tank tops fresh off the beach.” I like Dubai because it allows me to witness and participate in the blood, sweat, idea storms and tears all necessary to build a thriving city. An alumna of cities like NYC, DC, and Osaka, I am thankful for Dubai (a city literally under construction) because it makes me appreciate everything that goes into making an urban landscape thrive – streets, footpaths, buildings, symphonies, coffee shops, etc… To cities and all that goes into making them!

www.jottinginthegulf.wordpress.com

Sent by A from Dubai

We Feel Fine

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

I have always enjoyed this website… Among other things, the website tracks the emotions of web entries by place. It is always interesting to see how “angry” or “bored” people are in a particular place.

http://www.wefeelfine.org/

Sent by Jacob from Washington, D.C.

A Wonderful City to Know

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

hugues_lavenant.jpegI live in Nantes and despite the fact that I really like your country and Mr. Florida and his team, I’m quite proud of my European city. It’s a place where some unbelievable projects may come true, like having a giant elephant walking daily in our streets, but more seriously where you can set a new business with a lot of kindliness from many actors.

Sent by Maurice from Nantes, France