Big city living – the big not-so-easy

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Having spent basically all my life living in big metropolitan centres around the [western] world, I am prone to wax on about their long vaunted advantages: cultural centre, variety of people, business opportunities, anonymity, blah blah blah. Then there are the ordinary complaints, such as the cost of living, getting kids into schools, parking, rudeness, pigeons, and more parking (towing mafia, etc).

For purposes of this blog, I wanted (initially) to refine my analysis, to limit to those things that are true today about big city dwelling, but may not have been so 30 years ago.

The good things today include:
-On any day (in NYC), you can find a $20 bill lying on the ground (used to be just a $1 bill).
-Wifi coverage is generally good (this is the case for whichever new technology will come next) — 30 (nay 20) years ago we didn’t have mobile phones with which to contend.
-Less SUVs than in the suburban towns.

The less good things:
-On any day, you can easily lose a $100 bill (via rip off, mugging, or just leaving an object of value unobserved on a table) versus a $20 bill 30 years ago.
-At any point, you can get run into by a pedestrian absorbed by his/her mobile phone, texting while also listening blithely to the ipod.
-And the topper: a big city has more than one airport, which means you can screw up the departure or arrival. Alternatively, you can have a different arrival airport than the one from which you departed which is a problem when you decide to drive in your car to one airport (happened last week).

In the end, each big city has its tale and it is impossible to generalize [anyway]. Perhaps, it is more appropriate to examine what lies in store for us who have preferred city living. More profoundly, as the city populations continue to grow, real shifts are going to occur. City centres will increasingly become merely cultural or tourist centres and retail spaces, and less and less business offices and even less residential.

As the first world populations age, the retired people will have no call (nor means) to live in cities. The shift in demographics, the stress of space, the expense and the lack of community will all converge to create more “retirement communities” (exacerbated by a lack of the younger generations taking care of their aging parents) outside urban centres.

Travel will become a desperately important criterion as we face the congestion on the roads, the escalating price of fuel (as fuel sources diminish) and higher real estate prices forcing, especially the younger, further afield. Given the propensity to provide only low paying/non paying “stages” or internships, the younger adults may well prefer to stay at their parents’ home where the rent is free and the location may be closer to the city.

And then there is schooling. As far as I can tell, finding good schools is at a premium in any big city (either because there are limited spaces [including playing fields] or there just aren’t any good ones). With the inevitable departure of living quarters, schools will follow the migration. Perhaps, it is or will be the reverse that provokes the change. In any event, education will be another key component to the changes.

I would prefer city centres to remain thriving, creative experiences in which to live, but by the force of economics and demographics, it seems the greener pastures await us (of meeker means) all.

Comments 2

  1. As a further complement to this blog, I found some interesting facts courtesy of my pal Jody about movements out of major urban centres in the US. Specifically, that immigrants provide the only source of growth for metro citites as native-born Americans continue to move out, according to the 2007 U.S. Census. Looking at New York, from 2000 to 2006, it added 1 million immigrants, without whom the city would have lost nearly 600,000 people. And for LA metro area, without immigration, the city would have lost more than 200,000.

  2. Now we see Bloomberg announcing that the Yellow Cabs will go "green" in five years time… with hybrids. Big cities going green (and organic). Another major trend?

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