Wednesday, March 30, 2005

On Imagining the New Yorker Laughing

When will cities forget about NYC? I'm all for humility and modesty in self-assessment, but I sort of cringe whenever I hear people talk about their cities--particularly the Midwestern and Southern cities--and who seem compelled to conjure up the urbane and haughty specter of New York. Like this fellow from St. Louis, who is proud of his city's redevelopment:
The market is beginning to show signs that it can also attract an older, more wealthy buyer. Craig Heller, one of the first loft condominium developers downtown, recently sold a penthouse condominium for $750,000 - or $225 a square foot. "Somebody reading this in New York would laugh, but for us it's good," he said. "It's a nice thing because it shows this kind of living is not just the kids."
I think New York is a good city that is big and bustling. But, I also think that it's goodness is not a function of it's size or sense of activity. City is a broad enough term that makes room for places like New York and Milwaukee. A good city cannot, then, be just New York. Goodness must come from other qualities.

A city is a space with meaning attached to it; it's a place that we construct and maintain through physical and less tangible means whenever we take up residence in the shadows of its buildings--no matter how long they are--and nod to the people walking down its sidewalks or stepping into its shops or eateries. Cities are places with living people, clashing and making-up in streets filled with memories past and yet to come; in a sense, cities are living entities themselves. In as much as we would say it was unhealthy to constantly define ourselves in relation to others' beauty and liveliness, why would we want to do that with our city's body and identity?

St. Louis has its own culture, history, and sense of self. Surely its goodness or badness can be established without looking over its shoulder at what New York has done or is doing. There was, after all, a reason for why St. Louis was established and developed--it was a gateway city to the West for all of those people leaving supposedly wonderful Eastern cities, like New York!


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