What does your city 'say'?

I ran across this short 2008 essay ‘Cities and Ambition’ by Paul Graham, and found it pretty spot on.  Here’s the opening:

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.

The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. 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.

The whole thing is worth reading.  As Graham notes, you really need to live in a place for awhile to get a true sense of what it’s all about.

In thinking about Portland, I’d say the city sends the following message: “Jam Econo!”  (credit to the Minutemen, of course).  Or in other words, “do more with less”.  It’s not the grand ambition of the big cities, but a realistic ambition everyone can have some success with if they try.  And that’s OK – not every place needs to be driven by money and power trips.

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