A paean to city living

Guest post by Heron

Let us city dwellers sing a paean — a song of praise or triumph — for our cities. Let us stand together and celebrate our homes. Let Heron, of the arty DC rowhouse, lead us in praise.

Empire State Pigeon

In the city, there is always something to do

Tango dancing? Beers for Queers? Planned Parenthood escorting? Cooking classes? Knitting lessons? And that’s just at 4pm on Tuesday! A city means a high concentration of people in one place, which means there are always going to be enough people interested in every sort of social or instructional event. While a less-populated area might only have two Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts, a city will likely have a few good games going on at any time.

There are lots of people and they’re all different

The high concentration of people means FRIENDS and new POTENTIAL FRIENDS! Especially at those Dungeons and Dragons games or crochet lessons. Cities are ideal places to meet new friends who share your (possibly arcane) interests. And depending on where you grew up, your city may be a magnet for your friends from high school/college/grad school/Peace Corps/etc. Even though I grew up far from my current city, a goodly number of my friends from throughout my life have ended up here with me.

I can always find somewhere new and quiet to run away to

When I’m sick of running into people I know and sick of having to meet all these new people, I can always find somewhere new and quiet to escape. And I don’t mean my house. A city is the perfect place to be anonymous. The bigger the city, the easier anonymity: take a bus a few miles north and stroll around a new park. Or visit a library or bookstore you’ve never patronized, sit in a corner, and read a book for a while.

I can walk, bike, or take public transit everywhere

We live in a smaller city, which means that we have been able to live car-free for three years. Some people need a car, but we are totally content with walking, biking, public transit, and Zipcar for the occasional big-shop or trip to the mountains. Walking and biking help me know my way around better, and using public transit makes me feel all squishy for the environment. I also feel safer: in the case of a zombie apocalypse I know I can walk home from work in under an hour. Cities are generally easier for low-income people and people who need higher accessibility for the same reasons.

In some ways, cities are good for the environment

My squishiness for the environment extends from using public transit to living in a city as a whole. Cities use fewer natural resources than the same number of people living in lower concentration. Cities have a smaller footprint (literally) than suburbs and allow more people to make better use of fewer commodities. For example, a drug store or grocery store serving 2 square miles in a city would service 200,000 people, while the same store serving 2 square miles in the suburbs would only service 10,000 people, necessitating more stores!

There are many things I hate about cities, but today I sang my love song entitled “Cities are Awesome!” So, tell me where you live and why you love it! Convince me to move to your village/commune/farm/gated community/tree.

Comments on A paean to city living

  1. I live in Southampton (UK), which I love because it’s big enough to have everything you could possibly need, but also small enough so you get that cosy feeling of knowing all the shortcuts and cool stuff like you do in a village.

    It’s a big improvement on the village I used to live in, which was small enough that everyone knew everyone’s business, but big enough that nobody cared to support each other. Le suck.

    • I live in Southampton, having grown up in London. This is gonna sound nuts: but I love the air. City meets sea breeze is really comforting (and also does wonders for my SOs hay fever!).

      Where I am is pretty near the clubs but also has a few independant shops, and is really close to the centre. And if I get bored, buses are everywhere.

  2. I live in Philly, which I love because it’s large enough to have all the great aspects of city living (like you mentioned above) but small enough that I can get from one end to the other in a half hour, my house has a drive way and an actual back yard, and there’s plenty of places to find nature (Fairmount Park, Carpenter’s Woods, Wissahickon Creek).

    Philly is also having a bit of a green renaissance, focusing on improving green infrastructure and making it the norm. I just attended a rain barrel work shop last night hosted by the Philly Water Department! There are good sports teams if you’re into that (I’m thinking Phillies and the Union, not so much the Eagles… I’m still mad about Michael Vick) and there’s also a thriving art, music and theatre scene. Philly has what many people have called the best craft beer scene in the nation (Monk’s Cafe basically started the Belgian trend in the US, and Standard Tap may be the first gastropub on record), and our restaurants are nothing to sniff at either.

    And not least of all – I love Philly’s reputation. We’re kind of NYC’s smaller, scrappier cousin that gets outshone a lot, but who’s easier to hang out with and have a good time with one you get to know her. For many years I myself looked down on Philly without having spent any time here. Then I moved here and realized that Philly’s got everything I always wanted!

    • I LOVE underdog cities. DC has many identities; some more underdog-y than others. Away from the hustle and bureaucracy, DC has desperate poverty, pockets of immigrants, hipster enclaves. Scrappiness is cool.

    • I’m a Philly native and now live in Queens, NYC. Everything you said about Philly is spot on. I moved to Boston for school (which I found kind of the even younger, just as scrappy but a little cleaner sibling of Philly and NYC) then to NYC after graduating.
      I find myself missing Philly a lot as I live in NYC. Even though I love it here, I sometimes yearn for something with the same qualities and ammenities with just a little less of the crazy/rush/go/psychotic that NYC has. Philly is totally that. Maybe I can convince the hubs to move there one day.

  3. I LOVE YOU, CITY LIVING! I think it’s the walking lifestyle that I love the most… the reality of being able to walk out my front door and get most anything I need for my daily life. In some ways, it’s allowed me to find more of a true “village” feeling living in the city than I ever found growing up in a smaller town/village.

  4. I live in the great behemoth of New York City. I can’t imagine anyplace better. As much as people coo about the culture, food, people, activities and so on, there’s nothing that matches the Empire City’s energy. I <3 NY.

  5. where i live, it’s just as likely to see an ice cream cart as it is an elephant walking down my street. i have evidence!

    i ride everywhere on my bike.

    another good sign is that i have TWO places that know my order as soon as i park my bike. one gives me a fresh coconut icy & the other gives me vegan eggrolls.

  6. I grew up in the suburbs, and I liked it. Until I moved to the city. I looove the city!! I take public transportation everywhere, or walk. The only time I’m in a car is if I have to get out to the suburbs, or if I’m carpooling with my husband somewhere. I can walk to the grocery store or farmer’s market in 5 min! I can stumble home from most bars in 10 min.

    Although sometimes I wish I had a little Vespa to get to the further away places.

    Unfortunately, my city is one of the most spread out cities in Canada…so public transport (while okay) isn’t top notch. So a lot of people still drive.

    My husband wants to move back to the suburbs when we start a family, but I don’t know if I want that!

  7. I live in Jamaica Plain, a “streetcar suburb” of Boston– as in, 100 years ago, it was a ‘burb, now it’s just an outer part of the city. It’s the best of burb- and city-living!

    It’s very community-oriented. It’s crunchy. It’s the gayborhood. It’s got young families of all kinds. And A LOT of dogs.

    It’s well-served by buses and the T (the subway), and ensconced in Fredrick Law Olmsted’s chain of parks, the Emerald Necklace. The city zoo is less than a mile away. There is a thriving art scene and no big-box stores within my zip code.

    It’s wildly diverse– I regularly hear three or four languages in a day– but we all get along because we love this place so much. I can get French for breakfast, Cuban for lunch, and Scottish for dinner.

    And the kids behave themselves in restaurants. I cannot overemphasize how much I love our local parents for teaching their kids manners.

    • Hooray, hooray, hooray for JP! I went to college in Boston and thought I was over it after four years. Then I moved to the beautiful, glittering Chicago and thought it couldn’t get any better than that. So much green space! so many festivals! great vegan cuisine! bikes… Bikes… BIKES!

      I just moved back to Boston to be closer to family. I was a touch angry and resentful at my east-coast family and thought that no other city could live up to my beautiful Chicago. Then I discovered Jamaica Plain, Boston! Ditto to all the a fore mentioned draws of the city (BIKING EVERYWHERE) plus… it has such a great (and scrappy) sense of community. I have a t-shirt with the map of my old Chicago ‘hood on it (shout out to Logan Square), now I am going to grab one from the Feed and Supply with the JP orange line on it to show my new ‘hood some love.

      P.S. you guys wanna hang out?

  8. We just moved to Chicago. We both love it here. We walk and take public transportation everywhere. He wants to get his bike out here, and I need a new one. I also want a cute little vespa, but that’s really just cuz they are cute and I can just see myself tooting around town on it.
    We live in the Gold Coast neighborhood, which is awesome because we are right near the lake (I can get to the beach in under 10 minutes. And we can see it from the rooftop deck.) And the Magnificent Mile and all of downtown is within walking distance (though we usually take the Red Line for convenience, it’s basically outside our door) and he only has a 20 minute walk to work.
    It is not awesome because this is sort of a rich neighborhood, which means the little shops and non-chain restaurants are a bit out of our budget, so in order to go get, say, a pair of socks, I have to take the CTA to a Target 2 miles away, but you know what? I’m ok with that.
    Our grocery store is only a 5 minute walk away, and CVS is even closer.
    In fact, the only thing that really irks me about where we live, is the dive bars (I don’t understand how this nice neighborhood has such a population of gross bars…) on the other end of the alley our windows are right above… Which means that every Thursday through Sunday we have rowdy, annoying, and very loud drunk people walking, and sometimes peeing beneath our windows.

    When our transformer blew a couple weeks ago, we went to Jimmy John’s for sandwiches and packed up our laptops and headed to the Barnes and Noble around the corner and hung out all day, drinking Starbucks. It was awesome. We’d have rather been at home, but that was a neat alternative, and to know that we could just do that whenever we want is awesome. πŸ˜€

    We both grew up in a smaller city where you have to drive everywhere (seriously, a 45 minute drive from where we lived, to the only mall in the city) and he is so much less stressed with out the car. Our home city is dirty, cultureless and uninteresting. Back home we wouldn’t take the public transit to save our lives. The only things I miss are the trees and the stars. And our families…

    Sorry for the novel. I just really like it here.

  9. accessibility is one of the ONLY reasons i think cities are better for low-income people. i am back in the city after living in the wilderness for a couple of years and i am just HEMMORAGING money – i swear it jumps out of my pocket when i walk out the front door. Public transportation costs money, too. My GPS says it costs about the same to take the bus across town as it does to drive my car, only it takes a tenth of the time in my car. A bike is out of the question at the moment, my baby’s too young. All I know is that this morning, as I started packing to return to the woods I thought “oh, thank god. I’ll be able to breathe, not hear traffic and cars, not have other people in my way, and… it won’t cost hardly ANYTHING to be there in the tranquility.”

    mind you, i love the city. i was raised in the ‘burbs (in my mind, the WORST way to live, lol) and took off for the city as soon as i could, for all the above reasons…

    ideally, i’ll just go back and forth. head to the woods when the noise and chaos, overstimulation and overcrowding of the city gets to me, and head back when i can’t stand being alone with myself in the woods anymore. πŸ™‚

    i also understand that nomadic life isn’t for everyone. but for those of us who can’t make a decision, it works out well.

  10. Let’s see, I’m a city gal through and through. I was born and raised in the Overbrook section of West Philly. Walked to school, took the bus and El downtown. Then I moved to Boston for school where I lived in the Symphony area and then Mission Hill. Now I live in Astoria, Queens, NYC. I have to say my neighborhood in West Philly has seen it’s ups and downs. Parts of it are seeing a gentrification thing but that hsn’e spread to my parents’ section, I think they may move to the burbs before it does. Mission Hill was a great neighborhood to live in and right by school. Definitely had that neighborhoody feel, and with the freaking MFA right down the street. Astoria has got to be my favorite so far. I moved here in 2005, right before it got all “hip” and “trendy” (read: expensive) andbefore all the Bkyln hipsters started infiltrating, lol. I really love it here, I can walk to pubs, restaurants, gourmet/natural food stores, parks, the subway and can be in Manhattan in like 15 minutes. It’s the best. πŸ™‚ Love the photo above, you can see Queens across the river there! Hubs mentions moving to the suburbs (Long Island where he’s from) and I’m like euch, no thanks. Not only do I not drive, but I just have zero interest.

  11. I absolutely love living in Seattle. I grew up in the north ‘burbs of Ballard and Lake City, but luckily my family took me all over the city to all sorts of places when I was younger. When I graduated college, I moved to Capitol Hill (right next to downtown Seattle) and I’ll never leave the city. I’ll travel, I may live elsewhere for grad school, but Seattle is my city and all I can think about is being a part of this community as a crazy old lady (and believe me, Capitol Hill has PLENTY of company to offer me in this regard).

    I love the food, the farmer’s markets, the amazing little neighborhoods within neighborhoods of a city and the people. I work with the homeless, and because that’s my career going forward, there’s no way I *could* leave the city. It’s tempting once in a while to imagine living out in the San Juans or on Whidbey, tending a a little farm and swimming every day, but the city is my reality, and one I’m happy to have chosen for myself.

    I live next to the busiest hospital in Seattle, and I love the sirens. I love noise of people coming back from a night of drinking and hanging in front of my courtyard. I love the art. I love the characters. Bah, now you’ve just made me go crazy. I seriously love city-living.

  12. I live in Las Vegas with an (almost!) 4 month old babycake. Right now it is 410 degrees outside, so I’m housebound..but this fall when it’s low 80’s — I’m going to make this city my back yard.

  13. Sprawling Los Angeles, how I love thee! The best thing about my city is the variety of neighborhoods it offers. You can have any kind of lifestyle you want just by picking the right area. And when you want a taste of something different, drive 20 minutes and you’re there! Beach, hippie, urban, gritty, hipster, extravagant, suburban, rural, or mountainous. All this and more is available to you whenever you want it!

    I love the walkability and convenience of my neighborhood. I love being next to a train stop so that I can get to the airport without a car. I love that I’m central to everything. I love being just down the road from Griffith Park. Thai Town, I love you.

  14. I grew up in the country and went to school in a small town. Never again. I was miserable and the ability to roam free on our farm all by myself wasn’t nearly the amazing draw that having nearby friends (only child with no neighbours near my age) and more options would have been.
    I moved to the nearby small city (250,000 people) and was significantly happier. Public transit here is less than stellar, and it isn’t always as convenient as a big city, but it’s a nice in between. I can drive my car, but I can also walk to the local grocery store, convenience store, candy store, shops, etc. I live in the artsy area and it’s significantly safer than other areas. I’m still adjusting after 2 years to how friendly my block is (we actually have block gatherings at people’s homes and sign cards and buy gifts).
    I also spent 3.5 years in a big city, although I lived in a smaller area of it (more like a small city within a big one than a suburb). I loved the convenience and the fact that public transit was frequently really good (taking my car downtown was not much faster and was way more expensive with parking), but I missed having less traffic and more people I knew. So while I wish my city had public transit that was more functional (7 minute drive to work or a 20+ minute bus ride… I am not a morning person. I need my sleep), I’m still happy here. But I expect in the future my husband and I will be heading to a slightly bigger city.

  15. I’m a city girl to the bone! I grew up in st. louis, lived in downtown denver for eight years after college, and now the husband-elect and i are digging seattle. i love the noise, the people-watching, the architecture, the density of experience that comes from living in the city. i like the idea of visiting the country, but really i get anxious if i’m outside a city for long. i have the most trouble with the suburbs though. πŸ™‚

  16. I live in a smallish (100000 people) university town. I love it! It’s big enough to be a city and to have a certain animosity. It’s small enough to get everywhere by bike and really get to know the area. It’s full of young people, which creates a fun, young, vibrant atmosphere. When I sometimes go to other places in the country, I get struck by all the old people on the streets. Did I mention it’s basically bar-paradise? Though for big clubs you need to go to a bigger city, but actually, I love hanging out in small pubs and bars. The only sad thing is that my friends are slowly moving away for jobs… But, I’ll take Herons advice to heart and try to make new friends when I finally take a sewing class!

  17. I live in Lyon, France. It’s big enough to have many diverse associations, rare language classes and cool wine shops, but small enough so that everything interesting is less than a 30-min walk away. I was lucky to arrive here (almost 10 years ago) as the city was entering a new era of city planning, turning to green, friendly infrastructures: an almost free bike rental service was implemented throughout the whole city a few years ago, there are more and more green public transporation options and the city has its host of free activities for everyone in summer. Two rivers flow through it, meaning miles and miles of creative, artsy promenades which get even more interesting in summer, with barges-turned-bars and restaurants. Oh, and I almost forgot many hidden parks and a wonderful historic center dating back to the Middle Ages to escape the hustle of the city.

    And people are verrrrrrry relaxed πŸ™‚

    I’m considering going back to the countryside (I grew up in a 900-people village), as I miss the space and fresh air and silence, but as city goes, this is the best I’ve ever found according to my standards!

  18. I live in Christchurch, New Zealand, tiny by most comparisons but it’s beautiful, built in the style of Cambridge, UK. Everything is accessible by bus, there’s a big fuck off park in the middle of the city, loads of free things to do with your spare time and juuuust enough people that things like roller derby and burlesque dancing have finally started to take off.

  19. I just moved from a community of less than 2000 on a remote part of the Navajo Nation to San Francisco. I’m loving the diversity and bustle of SF, but there is something so wonderful about living in a rural area too! Especially if you grew up in the city or ‘burbs, I highly recommend rural living for at least a couple years of your life… it will give you a new perspective, glimpse into a totally different way of life, and generally (as in the case of the Navajo rez) provide for some KICKASS NATURAL BEAUTY. πŸ™‚

    • Agreed. How do you ‘plan’ to live a couple of years in a rural place? I would love to try living like that, but jobs are generally in the city… Do you have any tips or ideas?

  20. I grew up in a small town (Woodstock, NY)and I now live in Queens, NY – specifically Jackson Heights. I love living here – not only is Queens the most diverse borough in NYC, but Jackson Heights is the most diverse neighborhood within Queens. That means I get to meet all different kinds of people and have the most amazing array of ethnic cuisines readily available. I also like my neighborhood because it’s definitely quieter and less insane than Manhattan, and people seem to really care around here – the sidewalks are kept clean and many local businesses have been around forever. I work in Manhattan, which I love, but it’s nice to come home to my little section of Queens. It’s like having the best of both worlds.

  21. I spent six years living in Yokohama, Japan. It’s just south of Tokyo, and many of the foreigners I knew would always be in Shinjuku or Roppongi on weekends. I much preferred staying in Yokohama, though. The city center is very walkable, the public transportation is fabulous, and the people friendly. Tokyo is too big and crazy for me. Plus, where I lived, there was an Indian restaurant, a Nepalese restaurant, and a Bengali restaurant within walking distance. The staff all knew us and we’d often get free chai after dinner. Definitely a plus!

    Now I’ve just moved to the tiny town in upstate New York where I grew up. I love country living. One thing I missed tremendously during my city years was looking at the stars. Now, when I walk home after eating dinner at my mom’s house next door, I see millions of stars. The birds are always singing, the frogs in the pond croak, and deer walk across the yard to eat from the apple trees. It’s our own little slice of paradise. (Now I just need to find a job!)

  22. Well, although I did leave my heart in San Francisco (not born there but lived there for 5 years and loved it), I now live in NYC. I should correct that and say that I lived in NYC for 5 years, had a love/hate relationship with the city, met the now husband, and have moved to nearby NJ for love. Been in NJ for 2.5 years now.
    I love the energy of NYC but something about living in NJ turned me off to it. Commuting sucks and I feel like I am in a constant commute, work or play.
    I am a city person and with NYC, I feel like I have been there done that.
    I love cities and what they have to offer and I think my husband and I have met our match with Austin, Texas. We are most probably moving there early next year.
    Does anyone out there have anything amazing to say about Austin? It seems to have a great balance of city and beautiful nature and activities and biking and “weirdness”.
    I’d love to hear more.

  23. oh my effing g! i hate the burbs, was raised in them! i love me some city living! public transportation is great, less than 3 my bus pass, but wish the local systems were a little more early morning/late night job friendly.

    i was inches away from moving to the french quarter (new orleans stole my heart) when a career struck keeping me here in way too sunny so cal, and a month later, love struck, which has me moving from los angeles county to orange county (every one of my friends has made fun of me for my soon to be ‘oc girl’ status), but it has GOT

    • oh how weird, windows shut down on me when i was typing this and it posted it! :insert twilight zone theme here:

      as i was saying, it has go to be better than monrovia, ca. this town is always on top 10 small towns of america lists. pin-up girl clothing resides here and honestly, i don’t know how something so cool is here when i suffer through a norman rockwellian hell.

      i don’t know much about costa mesa, but i’ve already found what might be actual rock clubs down there, and i’ll be living down the street from disneyland! i’ll be able to hop on the bus after work and go ride star tours!

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