This week's issue (No. 24): 


(the difference between living in NYC and San Francisco...and more)
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editor's note:

Happy Labor Day weekend everyone! Why don't you rest from your labors and read a while? I suggest taking a few moments to think about cities.

The world is moving to cities. For the first time in history, more than 50% of the world population lives in cities. The UN predicts that number will rise to 66% by 2050.

If you want to know about the future, you want to know about cities. What makes them succeed? What makes them fail? What makes them different? 

In our modern times, where increasingly we live in a monoculture of celebrity and chain stores, cities still create pockets of differences - from the food they serve, to the music they produce, to the jobs they create. 

They also create us. We are all formed by the places we live. 

Here are 5 terrific articles, essays (and cartoons!) about some of the leading and formerly leading cities of our world today.  

Read wisely. Read widely.

P.s. I'm experimenting with much shorter summaries today. Let me know what you think! 

In this issue:

1. The difference between living in NYC and San Francisco (a hilarious and accurate cartoon comparison) - The Cooper Review

2. Cities and ambition (a brilliant take on where the differences between cities come from) -

3. The Death and Life of Atlantic City (a great inside look at what can lead a city to fail) - The New Yorker

4. Can LA become more than an Auto Dystopia (or, "are we in the era of the third LA?") - Slate

5. Rise of the Beijing Super-City (China's plans for a 130m person mega-lopolis) - The New York Times

The Difference Between Living in New York and San Francisco
by Sarah Cooper in The Cooper Review || Article Link
(3 minute read)

This is a delightful and funny series of cartoons comparing NY and SF. I especially like the cartoons comparing the weekday schedules and the attitudes of drivers.

Cities and Ambition
by Paul Graham in  || Article Link
(18 minute read)
Paul Graham is the philosopher-founder of Y-Combinator, one of the great start-up incubators in the world. In this oldie but goodie from 2008, he writes about how each city has it's own ambition that makes it unique, some driving goal that unites it's citizens, from the desire to be smart (Cambridge), or wealthy (New York), or powerful (Silicon Valley).  He moved to Berkeley, CA figuring it would be like Cambridge (MA) but with better weather, but found out he was wrong. 

"Cambridge with good weather, it turns out, is not Cambridge. The people you find in Cambridge are not there by accident. You have to make sacrifices to live there. It's expensive and somewhat grubby, and the weather's often bad. So the kind of people you find in Cambridge are the kind of people who want to live where the smartest people are, even if that means living in an expensive, grubby place with bad weather."

The Death and Life of Atlantic City
By Nick Paumgarten in The New Yorker | Article Link
 (49 minute read)

This is a story about the most expensive private construction project in the history of New Jersey. The Revel Casino cost more than $2.4 billion to build and it was to revitalize Atlantic City's storied boardwalk.

The project went bankrupt and the casino, never completed, was sold for $90M to an out-of-town entrepreneur named Glenn Straub.

Straub wanted to build, instead of a casino,
  "a 'Tower of Geniuses'...a high-rise think tank, which would draw on NASA and the federal government’s aviation-research facility at Atlantic City Airport, just offshore." He pledged that this tower would both solve the world's problems and revive the town.
L.A. Existential:
Los Angeles wants to shed its image as an auto-dystopia. 
by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow in Slate || Article Link 
(11 minute read)
Los Angeles is changing, at least according to Los Angelenos. In the face of drought, can it actually become a "green" city?

"...outsiders who cling to the old clichés about L.A. have themselves become a target of ridicule. As the real-estate blog Curbed LA put it, “New York Times stories about Los Angeles are amazing because they're like seeing the city through the eyes of a dorky time traveler from 1992.”

The most explicit attempt to capture the shift in the zeitgeist is the notion of the “Third Los Angeles,” a term coined by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne...

...In his formulation, the first Los Angeles, a semi-forgotten prewar city, boasted a streetcar, active street life, and cutting-edge architecture.

The second Los Angeles is the familiar auto-dystopia that resulted from the nearly bacterial postwar growth of subdivisions and the construction of the freeway system.

Now, Hawthorne argues, this third and latest phase harks in some ways back to the first, in its embrace of public transit and public space (notably the billion-dollar revitalization of the concrete-covered Los Angeles River)."


As Beijing Becomes a Supercity, the Rapid Growth Brings Pains
by Ian Johnson in The New York Times || Article Link 
(8 minute read)

The Chinese central authorities are planning to merge Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei Province into a a metro area six times the size of New York's. They plan to build a city of 130 million people. 

Whether the plans come to fruition or whether they crater along with the Chinese market is anyone's guess, but already high-speed rail is beginning to connect these three centers into a single huge urban area. 


A Personal Reflection on City Living

I never thought I would raise my family in New York City. But here I am. Three kids and, possibly, soon a dog. 

There are many tradeoffs. Just one example: the freedom of children. The kids have less freedom in these early years - they can't run out in a backyard by themselves. But they'll have more freedom later - not needing a driver's license, in a few years they'll hop around the city on the subway by themselves.

Many people come to the city "to make it," to prove themselves, to see how they measure up against the best. As Sinatra crooned, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere."

Bright lights. Crowded clubs. It's exciting, but it can be lonely and at times discouraging.

I think the road to happiness in the city is not made by getting as much from it as you can, but by giving to it as much as you are able.

Cities, big and small, are made by the people who live there. The quality of life is isn't just about the humidity and the cost of living. It's more about the quality of your neighbors. Do they know each other? Do they help each other out? Do they care? 

You may or may not "make it there" like Sinatra but each of us has the opportunity to "make it better there" for our neighbors, looking for opportunities to give more than we take, to serve more than we seek to be served. 

I'll tell you that isn't the default mode of my heart. My natural state of mind is to act as if the city is about me: what I want, where I'm going, who's in my way.

The irony of course is that I'm often happiest when I'm the least focused on pursuing my own happiness. Those moments when I'm actively trying to be a good neighbor to someone else turn out to the times when I myself feel most at home.

Happy Labor Day friends. Here's to cities, and here's to making them what they ought to be. 

- Max

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