Friday, August 7, 2009

A Brief Assertion: There Is No Other Country On Earth With As Many Amazing Cities As The USA

Photo by niddler.

I've never been known as a flag-waving, red-white-and-blue-bleeding patriot (often, quite the opposite), but there is one thing I am constantly in awe of and can never begrudge the United States: the greatness of its largest cities. Over the past few weeks, I've been to several American burgs, each one unique in its history, culture, and atmosphere; each a national, if not international, center of industry, commerce, communication, and transport; each with myriad museums, restaurants, concerts, festivals, and other markings of cosmopolitan sophistication. Say what you will about Wonder Bread suburban monoculture—America's cities as parts of a larger whole are unmatched anywhere else on the planet. I doubt any other country has as many places peopled by representatives of every cultural group on Earth:

Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York*

Take any of the cities I just named, and you can come up with any random dish, type of music, style of dance, or artistic movement: there's samba and salsa in Seattle, pad Thai in Miami, Guinean drum circles in Houston, and Tahitian dance classes in New York. And the ease of internal migration and the abundance of external immigration means the fusion of local traditions with recent additions.

Naysayers might erroneously invoke Europe as a comparison: there is none. Europe is a collection of independent nations with their attendant histories, languages, and former colonial empires. The majority of major cities on the Continent and the Isles are ex-imperial capitals, where wealth and power were concentrated during a multi-century competition with neighboring metropoli. The greatest American cities developed through a balance of domestic and international interests, without being national, or sometimes even state capitals. Besides, the United States is still only one country; there are others larger and more populous.

Then, there are equally vast nations, such as China or India for instance, with a large cadre of population centers that are, unfortunately, just that: agglomorations of people drawn together, like all cities, by virtue of resources and opportunity, but largely homogenous relative to their enormous population size and not very well-known on an international scale as models of economic or cultural diversity.

Yes, American cities deal with gang violence and grit, economic and social disparity, declining educational output and unemployment, pollution and inadequate public transportation. But these ills drive the best and brightest in their quest for liveable, enjoyable hometowns. The country is the biggest beneficiary of that work, manifested in those swarming hubs of human interaction where city lights outshine stars.

*I'm purposely excluding "niche" cities like Las Vegas, Orlando, Honolulu, or New Orleans; or "secondary" places like Charlotte, San Antonio, Portland, or Denver, despite soaring cosmopolitanism in each.

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment below and/or click .


kwerekwere said...

hm. i'm going to rain on your parade, but not for the reasons you think.

i get really left-brained when people [it's not just you] say certain particular things about the usa, especially when it comes to "all" or "none" phrases. it's necessary to get left-brained because there are no apples to apples comparisons between varying countries.

and with that in mind, let's start.
beginning with your title, there are too many words in your sentence. few countries have as many cities of any kind as the united states; thus making "amazing" superfluous.

you actually outlined *why* there are no apples to apples comparisons, yet continued as if there were in fact apples to apples comparisons available.

that's the problem, really.

put another way, no country on earth has between 250 and 350 million people besides the united states. there are two [and only two] with more, and there two [or so] hovering around 200 million, but nobody else comes close. working from that left-brained perspective, there's just no comparison.

let's put this in a same-brand situation.

let's use mercedeses as an example.

china and india would be maybachs: have a third of the world's population between them, but seeing many of either outside of their "natural environment" is pretty rare.

the united states would be an m-class; a bit of overkill [either buy a merc *or* by an suv], but you know they're there and ostentatious and they don't care that you think they're sloppy about it.

brazil, indonesia, bangladesh, pakistan and russia [and this is *stretching*] would be C-class: you see them, there's some good and some bad things to be said about them, but overall nothing to write home about -- and japan would be a C-class with a whole bunch of extra options and gadgets

the EU countries would be A-class: quirky and boring at the same time, but still dependable.

and everyone else would be smart cars: just in the way, taking up space, traffic fillers.

[heh, i could/should have gone with honda or especially toyota with all of their interchangeable parts, but by the time the idea was in my head, i was already writing about A-class.]

an easier way to say all of this is that the united states is in a league of its own. the problem with this statement is when something is described as such, they mean it to be *better* than everything else -- but the usage i would prefer to infer is that it's *different* than everywhere else without putting a value judgement on this difference.

"different" [with related comparatives and superlatives]is fine. "better" because it's so different is not. does that make sense?

still, it's good writing, but my extreme nerdiness won't let me just let it go.

*by the way, indian heterogeneity is pretty extreme; it's the main reason that most business in the indian parliament is done in english. many southern members of parliament *refuse* do speak hindi, as it's seen as a "language of the oppressor" -- and if they have to choose languages of the oppressor, they'll choose english instead.

"chinese" homogeneity is also a fairly recent phenomenon as well.

again, my [not-too-]inner nerd just couldn't let those bits go.

Anonymous said...

FB, what I think you're saying is that the mix of cultures and melting pot nature of the USA makes it more interesting than Japan or India, where you do have other people of different backgrounds, but there is one clear majority.

That's definitely the case if you can't travel, getting capoeria classes in the Brazilian communities in Newark or going to Chinatown for Chinese food may be a decent substitute. Not the same but it is better than not experiencing it at all.

Fly Brother said...

Kwere: Surely you ought to know that my parades are Brazilian enough in nature to not be sidelined by a little rain. Wet carnivals are the hottest!

I think I was saying that the US is in a league of its own, admittedly by using hyperbole, but that's the prerogative of the writer, isn't it? The post is, implicitly, my personal opinion, and I use the word "amazing" because, as far as I'm concerned, its an apt and useful term to describe how the abundance of world class American cities affects me - I'm amazed. Mentioning the fruit comparison was to head off comparisons (elicited by a similar Fly Brother post on Sept. 11, 2008) between the States and the EU. On the question of China and India, I'm not denying the presence of cultural diversity within the larger umbrella of national identity, but those are countries established where the majority of the population is indigenous to the geographic area. And the word "better" appears nowhere in this post. As you say, there's just no comparison...which is why I wrote the post in the first place. You just wanted to pick a fight!

PS - I like long titles!

No Debt: I wouldn't say more interesting, but different in a positive way. You're right; if you had to chose a city from which you could never travel, but that offers exposure to as many other cultures as there are in the world, the US offers a buffet to chose from, versus one or two daily specials in any other country.

Thanks to you both for commenting.

Ali la Loca said...

Yet another reason I am really looking forward to moving back to the US, where we will call one of said big cities home.

It will be, no doubt, AMAZING.

beijos pra você.