Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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Archive for March, 2010

What’s Edmonton Like?

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

I am headed to Colorado for law school and have the option of pursuing a dual-degree program with the University of Alberta in Edmonton. This would mean two years in Boulder and two in Edmonton, as opposed to the typical three in Boulder.

Does anyone have any information concerning the transportation infrastructure, quality of life, etc. of Edmonton? What about the U of A? I’m okay with cold, as I’m originally from upstate NY. I would prefer not to have to own a car.

Sent by Zach from Edmonton, Alberta

Seeking a Multi-faceted City

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Okay, I don’t know how to ask this question. I’m having trouble finding my ideal city, and this economy is a big part of the problem.

Here’s my ideal city–> very diverse, full of artists, musicians, writers, actors, creative types, very progressive politically, very friendly and open, down-to-earth people, lots of highly intelligent people, lots of hippies & eccentric, nonconformist, “out of the box” thinkers (I really wish I could transport myself to the 60s!) Yet with all this I need to be able to find a job and an affordable place to live–but this could be worked out somehow I suppose if I found the ideal place. (Why is it that the artsy, creative cities become prohibitively too expensive for artists like me to live in them?)

Also I’d prefer to live in a major city to which lots of people move from other places. Currently, I live in the midwest & it seems everyone is “from here,” is white and middle class. Everything & everyone looks and feels the same. Even the food all tastes the same. I feel like the raving eccentric from Cali… But, then again, I am–used to live in Cali, had to leave due to the economy.

Anybody have any suggestions? BTW, I’m a filmmaker, writer, actor, musician, very creative and love being around other artists & living in places where there are people from other parts of the world. Sadly, like many artists, I’m struggling financially and having trouble finding a place where there are lots of creatives like me, but where one doesn’t need to be rich to live there and where artists are supportive of each other. Perhaps this just doesn’t exist in the U.S. anymore?

Sent by Mindy from “Mindyapolis”

Integration with a Global City

Friday, March 19th, 2010

map_cta_trainMy beat is Chicago and the city just across the city line to the north, Evanston. I live in Chicago, and in the course of the past 15 years have done two separate stints working up in Evanston. I’ve been amazed at the degree of economic and lifestyle integration that is achieved by dint of Evanston’s high degree of mass transit connection to Chicago. A special express train (the Purple Line) runs during the morning and afternoon rush, so that the centers of Evanston are within minutes of the Chicago Loop. Evanston also has all-day fast connectivity via the METRA commuter rail.

I have had occasion in the past to marvel at how Japan uses complementary rail systems to achieve a massive degree of connectivity across the entire Kanto region (Osaka < – > Tokyo). The Chicago-Evanston connection is an example to me of a single link that demonstrates that we can do it here, too!

I wonder what it would take to extend this lesson across the entire regional rail system in the Chicago region!!

Sent by Joe from Chicago and Evanston, IL

Central Northwest Gold

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

On the eastern slopes of the great Cascade mountains is what appears like a quaint mountain town with lumber logging roots (and an old mill to boot) but a growth pattern like few other mountain towns anywhere in the US. Bend is the heart of Central Oregon and a city that would seem small and typical of any off-the-beaten-track mountain town but a closer look shows every modern convenience and the rich availability of a large city but with one lacking, sloppy or deficient areas (very minimal). All the big name stores are here and the downtown is a pleasantville indeed. Bend does not lack for quaint entertainment and as a retirement area it has grown in great abundance, style and money.

The history of Bend is a pivotal point in the early migration to Oregon of those horse and wagon settlers. The city name comes from a main Central Oregon crossing at the bend of the Deschutes River for settlers coming from the far east back in those wagon train days on the Oregon Trail. One of the main founders, Drake, started the main (now shut down) lumber mill and preserved a park riverside area that will rival riverwalks anywhere. It is the only town in the US with its own (volcanic) butte that is used for recreation and viewing from the center of the town. Two main US old style (two lane) highways cross in bend, 20 & 97, one of which is a main Central Oregon highway north and south and the other east and west. US 97 through Bend was turned into a 4 lane parkway not long ago and it is convenient and fast. Two mountain passes over the Cascades take you to either Eugene or Portland fairly quickly all year around. The unique settling history of Bend grew from 20,000 over 30 years ago to close to 100,000 today mostly coming from Californians with rich investments.

To most people their first visit to Bend will be memorable as the perception would be a fancy campsite area (like Yosemite) with large pine trees on every corner and yard and Sears, Home Depot and Cosco squeezed in among them. Bend is probably the closest city to the most spectacular natural sights of Oregon with Crater Lake not far to the South and Mt. Hood not far to the north and hundreds of lakes off several rivers in between. Klammath Falls Lake, the largest fresh water lake east of the Great Lakes is a ways to the south with a large floodland area for a multitude of wildlife. The Summers can be mildly hot but the nights always go below 70 F all year round. The winters are considered mild with some snow but it does not get too deep or last long. It can get pretty cold though going to the daytime 30s and sometimes but not often down to zero. Bend is considered a high desert climate and the humidity is definitely low and dry but as there are many micro-climates in Central Oregon the weather changes sometimes without warning but nothing wild like heavy rain or strong winds.

I found myself settling into an atypical rural life for my family just outside the city limits of Bend to tinker with farm animals and gardens with squirrels and other critters running up and down tall trees (not the chickens). I also found very friendly neighbors and townsfolk everywhere I went, not just some but all. Kindly, friendly people with heart. A rare find totally in these times. Although the cold takes some getting use to for me as a city dweller most of my life, the sight and smells of pine trees and rivers makes it all worth it to be here permanently all season. The best part is one minute you’re in the middle of a very modern city and the next you’re out in the middle of seeming pristine wilderness. If this is the desert, I’m in a paradise version of it for sure. A desert with lots of water always nearby. Did you know that chickens actually have a language? I got one hen that follows me everywhere and talks up a storm and so does the rooster too but for different reasons. He’s just jealous. I just stare him down and enjoy the trees.

Sent by David from Bend, Oregon

Brooklyn

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

New York City, the beautiful, polluted, restless city. Where the lights shine, the cars honk, and hearing the sound of people’s footsteps pacing, rushing to their nearest or furthest destination, sounds like home. Where I was raised into one of the nosiest neighborhoods ever. Everyone knew everyone and everything down to how much someone weighs is buzzing around the streets. OH! You’ve heard of it? Yeah Greenpoint is the place I’m talking about.

I was born into one of those crazy families, you know the type who hallucinate and think celebrities are their friends. Where race is definitely NOT an issue. Growing up in a family of Polish, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Nicaraguans. Where rice, beans, eggs and coffee for breakfast fill the air. Just sitting in my room I can hear my friends waiting for me to come outside and just chill on one of those “New York weather” kind of days. Those are the days where no matter how bad the weather is outside, there will be no stopping anyone from going out.

Growing up in Greenpoint life is bound to have drama, it has to be the most scandalous neighborhood to live or even hangout in. I remember even being woken up the sounds of shots in the darkness. A dilemma over “baby mama” drama. Woke up the next morning come to realize it was my neighbor “Critter”, that’s what they called him. He was always up to no good it was going to happen eventually. Being in New York for some of my life, I have never experienced a better black out. For those of you who do not know what a black out is, Google it! The smell of hot must fills the air. The air so thick with heat it feels almost impossible to breathe but I know that once I’ve reached home, a cold shower awaits. Black outs meant, late nights in tank tops and shorts with small battery powered fans and sleeping on the floor because that’s where it was coolest. Where everyone in the neighborhood is sitting on their stoops or on their pull out chairs, kids in the sprinklers and th e adults drinking and playing dominoes in the dark.

The train station was very close to my block where I lived, so getting to other places wasn’t that much of a hassle. Everyone who has lived in New York for at least a month knows how overcrowded the stations are but yet we still complain. Always wondering why the person in front of me is walking so slow, everyone is constantly on the go. What aggravates me the most about the trains is when there is NO space but people find nooks and crannies to squeeze their bodies in. Walking to the train station I pass by the McDonalds that has been in the same corner for over 10 years already, thinking how could anyone eat that junk!

New York City. Where I could have the best slice pizza, hot dog, and Juniors famous Cheesecake. The city so busy and so full of opportunities I get a head rush from just thinking of the whirlwind I live in.

Sent by AsiaDivine from Brooklyn

Darien, CT to New York City

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Although I have lived in many different places and countries, I technically grew-up in Darien, Connecticut. Having spent my middle and high school years there, I now call the small, suburban town home. After moving out of my house two years ago, I have a newfound appreciation for the town I once found intolerable. Now that I do not live there anymore, I am grateful for the fresh air, open space, and quiet and cleanly roads.

Darien is a quintessential New England town and one of the most affluent places in the United States. The homes are large and the yards larger. Winding country roads twist and turn through forests and massive houses that are sized for hotels. Along the Long Island Sound beautiful mansions are positioned along the coastline. Darien has four country clubs (all with extensive waiting lists and a hefty admissions fee), a hunt club, and two yacht clubs. Darien is mainly a residential town with some stores, a few restaurants, and a few chain-stores along the Post Road (all strictly controlled by the town’s founding fathers). The car is used to get anywhere, even up the street to a friend’s house.

This suburban town houses mainly nucleur families with proper housewives (and scandals) and kids who excel at sports and strive for Ivy League colleges, while being safely brought up in a sheltered community which is tight-nit and familiar. There is one middle school and one high school and everyone knows everyone. Many Darientites (real term) grow up in Darien and raise their own kids there as well. Moving there as a 12-year-old from Los Angeles was a shock for me, as well as my whole family. The Indian summer and sprawling forests were a pleasant change, but we were not used to the conservative nature of this small East Coast town. The people seemed uniform and striving to be the perfect residents for a perfect coastal New England town. There are many interesting and down-to-Earth people in Darien once you really look, but there are also many welathy people that live rather protected lives.The people, perfectly manicured lawns, and typical American ideals are a point of awe and confusion to my family in Europe.

As comforting and tranquil it now is to go home (for a few days), the second I was able to leave I moved the opposite of Darien: London, England. After London, I moved to Midtown Manhattan in New York City. As draining as it is, I thrive on the city and its energy. I left the Long Island Sound for the Hudson, the expansive green lawns for concrete sidewalks, a quiet house for a loud apartment practically on the street, a car for the subway and walking, and homogeneous residents for the largest variety of people in the world.

Although Darien will always be part of me, I am always ready for a new adventure and prefer the bustling city life to the monotonous suburban life.

Below are sections of the song “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds (covered by The Decemberists) that I believe explains Darien, Connecticut to a certain extent.

Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes all the same.
And the people in the houses, All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes, And they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers, And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky, And they all look just the same.
And they all play on the golf course, And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children, And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp, And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes, And they come out all the same.
And the boys go into business, And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky, And they all look just the same.

Sent by Kim from Darien, CT

Ann Arbor

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Welcome to Detroit! The current air temperature is really insanely cold with a wind-chill that will rattle your bones. Get ready for a week of no sun and gray as you enjoy your stay at your final destination in the greater Detroit area. I have returned for a visit to the one place that was never quite my second home but, after living here in Michigan for two years, the familiar chill grips me like an old acquaintance.

My four best friends are waiting for me in the car and forty minutes and countless cornfields later we pull into the ice sheet that is my friend Matt’s driveway on the University of Michigan campus. As the week progresses I find myself following old paths. Matt’s, coffee shop, corner store, Matt’s, bars, and back to Matt’s. While the University of Michigan is associated with both a big populace and a big campus, as I walk my route I see old landmarks that suddenly make me aware of just how compact this campus really is. My walk is spotted with old faithfuls such as “Big Ten Burrito,” “Quickie Burger,” “Espresso Royale,” and “American Apparel.” I realize the influence of the last as I see approximately 50 percent of the population decked out in the aesthetic. A weird mix of hipsters and sorority girls alike wear this style, the only difference being a thrifted coat versus a down feather Northface jacket and Ugg boots. Practical, some may say of the latter, but the stamp of Daddy’s BMW with New York license plates sits nicely on these girl’s foreheads.

A return trip is great because I know I will not have to step foot on one of the big maize and blue busses that once to take me to class in the art school on North campus. The knot of anxiety in my chest makes itself aware as I see the hundreds of kids queuing up all over campus for the bus, freezing and blanketed with only an eerie silence as everyone goes about their daily routine. The unkempt fraternity houses and the elegant class buildings are covered in crawling ivy, a sure sign of a prestigious institution. Only in mid-January, the plant is unrecognizable as such because of the absurd amount of snow. “You never gave it a chance, Carrie. Ann Arbor is beautiful in the summer.” Yes, maybe, but I went home in April.

Sent by Carrie from Ann Arbor

New York, NY

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

New York is a city of doors – revolving doors to be precise. People are always going somewhere, in and out, never knowing quite when to stop or to slow, or whether to stop or slow at all. Everywhere I look, there’s a new face, a new style, a new culture. In walking around the city, I hardly expect to run into anyone that I know and, for that matter, “knowing” someone in New York is somehow drastically different from knowing someone in any other (smaller) place. It’s as if the place makes the person in New York. The movements that start are bigger than the individuals that start them and, speaking of which, difficult to pinpoint in terms of origin. Even in the lobby of NYU’s Bobst library, it seems difficult to imagine the intrinsic differences between persons aside from making stereotypical guesses derived from the information provided by his/her gate or clothing. And then, there’s the question of whether to waste time imagining, since chances of ever seeing that person twice remain ever so slim.

In truth, I do love New York – but, as James A. Reeves suggested, it’s difficult to know exactly what I love about the place. In high school, I took a course in Human Geography. We spent the first six weeks exploring the concept of place – trying to unravel, in academic terms, what exactly makes up a persons “sense of place.” We discovered that sense of place, or the sense of it, has to do with a number of factors both geographic and metaphysical. In New York, I know I love the scale: the tall buildings, the hectic sidewalks, and the consistency of the yellow cab. Even now, when I fly into New York after a weekend at home, I grow excited by the skyline, by the lights, by the traffic and the commotion. All of these factors, which in effect, make me appear small, both by size and scope, in comparison to my fellow men, empower me deep down inside; it’s as if New York is this stream of seemingly endless opportunity – but even I know that isn’t entirely true.

Just by taking a walk down the street and looking, really looking, I can see the burnt-out lines chalked on people’s faces. Every few blocks, I’m confronted by the jingle of a homeless man’s near empty change cup, reminding me that many, many people don’t make it in the big city. All over, on blogs and in literature about New York, there are anecdotes written by people who, in a nostalgic tone concede, “l loved New York and miss it dearly, but I just couldn’t stay.” In so many instances, it seems the city gets the best of those who come into it, opening their hearts, and willfully pouring their youth into its allure. Some days I feel that’s just what I’m doing, aside from studying, of course. When someone asks how long I plan to stay in New York, I always respond, “Just while I’m young. I can’t live here forever.” I usually laugh at myself right afterwards, admitting, rather cautiously, that I have little control over where I’ll spend my life and, as a result, little forehand knowledge about the matter all together. I suppose it’s the illusion of control, of man’s power over nature that is so represented by New York, and which proves so addicting to many souls (especially the young ones).

Now, that I’ve found myself growing accustomed to the city lifestyle, I’ve begun to imagine myself somewhere in southern California, ten years from now, in a glass house hanging on the edge of a hill. A warm, sunny place where I can look down over a cityscape from my omniscient vantage point and just imagine that I have complete control over my own destiny. I feel it’d be like flying in over tiny Manhattan Island all the time, glued to the window, sunbathing in the lights. But, nowadays, I quickly snap out of my daydreams. If there’s one thing New York has taught me, it is to daydream sparingly, for while my head is in the clouds, someone else is slipping ahead. Move, move, move – go, go, go. So I ask myself, has New York transformed me into a lifelong drifter? What cycles am I learning and what cycles am I breaking? Oh, and, all the while, in some quite corner of my mind, I’m praying that California is still warm and sunny by the time I make it there – one of these days.

Sent by Harrison from New York, NY

Paris, France

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Leaving France and coming to NYC to live by myself in an unknown place, was one of the hardest and most exciting thing to do. I would be lying if I said that I do not miss my home city and my home country. In France, I live in Paris, in the 15th district between Montparnasse, the biggest tower in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower. I live in a neighborhood consisting of a number of elementary and high schools. Consequently, the average population I see walking down the streets is very young: mostly teenagers walking in groups or younger children attended by their parents or baby-sitters. The neighborhood is very child-friendly with a great number of parks where kids can play and have a good time after school, even in the early winter when the weather is still nice. In high school I also used to hang out with my friends on benches surrounded by a couple of trees here and there.

Older people can also be observed going to the market a few blocks away from my apartment. The market is always very lively on a Wednesday morning when sellers are screaming to inform customers of a promotion of meat, fish, vegetables or fruits. Around 4 or 5pm, café terraces will be filled with teenagers coming out of school, later replaced by young adults, workers and business people in the afternoon and at night for their afternoon meeting or to have a drink after work.

The metro in Paris is also a good place to observe people. There are always a lot of interaction around 4pm, between the entertainers playing an instrument, giving a speech, telling a story or creating a show for the public to enjoy in exchange for money, and the children chatting on their way home. If you want a calm and silent environment, the Parisian subway in the late afternoon is probably not the right place to go.

The plazas, café terraces and old ornamentally decorated architecture of the main streets give a sense of unity, almost like an art piece, to Paris. There is a real feeling of romanticism combined with a certain nostalgia and ‘love of the past’. Because of this unity, it only makes it more striking when a new modern building comes to disrupt the façade of a street. In this sense, French people can arguably be called conservative as they complain about the destruction of old buildings as they are replaced by new, modern ones; but in my opinion French people are only being loyal to their roots and to their culture as well as have a sense of esthetic pleasure. Even if Paris is old, it is still chic, classy and attractive and it is this very durability of the Parisian scene that I love about Paris. Even the bridges over the Seine are real works of art, not only because of the sculptures created on their sides but also the lights which are strategically positioned to showca se them in all their beauty at night.

Streets are never straight in Paris and even after 18 years I still get lost. However, getting lost does not mean ending up no where, but to another hidden nice bar, café or simply a small plaza illuminated by small lamp posts. Not only are they snaking around buildings, the streets of Paris are also very small. Knowing that even if you are at the beginning of a street you can get to the end only by walking there, and knowing that you just have to pay attention and make sure a car is not coming by to cross a street (without having to follow the traffic lights) give a welcoming feeling to this city. In a way, Paris is a city of pedestrians. It is a city which values human emotions and history. Even the streets all have names, every name having its own story. In the left façade of my apartment, the windows gave on the roofs of Paris and further away, the Eiffel Tower. On the right façade, the windows gave on Montparnasse and if you looked closely enough, the domes of variou s churches. I used to gaze out the window for minutes or even hours without getting bored.

Sent by Thanaïs from Paris, France

Viva Barcelona

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Having strolled the Barcelona streets for the past 6 years has made me aware of how much I love that city. Barcelona has done a fantastic job in holding onto and preserving their culture and traditions. It is a laid back and relaxed city occupied by interesting people, cute little café’s and historical 7 story buildings

Barcelona is a crispy clean city where storeowners or concierges sweep the pavement in front of their buildings. The sun is nearly always shining in the calles a.k.a. streets and cute little tables are dressed outside creating spectacular little café’s, next to all the green trees and parks. In the afternoon from 2 till 5 and on Sundays the shops are all closed, Spanish people enjoy big fancy lunches of 3 courses including a first course, Spanish traditional food like paella, desserts, wine and coffee, for great menu prices of 12 dollars. On Sundays I spend time with my boyfriends family, we go into the little village down the road where this old little bakery makes magical breads and we have again 3 course lunches with the grandparents and the rest of the family, eating very traditional foods like risottos, paella’s and fideua’s. We all listen to one another speak, we sit in the garden listening to classical music all dressed up elegantly for lunch and a great time is had by all.

At the age of 18 all hell breaks lose in Barcelona, as this is the legal age you can start to drive and drink, which might be better to gain at different times, and you can go clubbing and have an unforgettable night, which is not difficult in the trendy clubs of the city, like Sutton and Opium. Everyone drives motorbikes in the city, and cabs are not the main transport, the metros are clean and pleasant just like the busses. Barcelona doesn’t consist of many foreigners not many Asians at all, the Spanish people are very close to one another and have a strong cultural bond. The city is not to noisy and little do you hear sirens of fire trucks or ambulances, so bad things rarely go down. The movie theatres are always translated in Spanish, but we do have all the newest films. The people are interested in knowing your answer if they asked you a question, their polite, friendly, elegant and not fake.

What I love about Barcelona is that you’re on the beach and the mountains, it is such a diverse city and there are so many places to go and see, so much culture to be explored, so many great individual shops and high class up market restaurants to eat at, and I can even go skying if I drive 2 hours, or be in beautiful summer beach place I you drive 1 hour. It’s a beautiful city, full of markets, shops, museums and churches, and great for walking around.

I love Barcelona, and even though I am Dutch I like to consider myself Spanish. The sun, the sea, the mountaintops, the culture, tradition, the food, the parks, the shops and the atmosphere is like source of my happiness. Barcelona is just as great and powerful as many leading cities but it is totally different, there is no place like Barcelona, there is no place like home.

Sent by Rochelle from Barcelona