Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Thursday Thought Exercise: Dreaming of A Perfect City

people second-lining in the streets in New Orleans

A friend on Facebook recently pointed me to this interesting Wall Street Journal article from last year where musician, artist, writer, designer, and one of my favorite people on the planet, David Byrne, outlines the elements of what would comprise his perfect city. As a person who is currently dissatisfied with where she lives but unsure as to where to go next, this is a perfect thought exercise for me. But I think I come up a little short since I have so many places I still feel like I need to visit before I could craft my Ultimate City. But for now I can still present you with....

Features of the City of My (Current) Dreams*

Size: Half the size of New York would be good. Maybe limited to the size of the three boroughs that I frequented the most -- Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Trim the fat, there's still plenty city there.

Density: The density of Berlin seemed just right to me. At around 3.4million (according to Wikipedia), it is less than half the size of NYC (and 1.5X larger than the entire country of Slovenia), which means you can usually get a seat on the subway and you don't usually have to fight for sidewalk space, but you still run into (or try to avoid) people you know on the streets. I also crave good people watching, something that this level of density offers.

Sensibility and attitude:
It would be a mix of New York and Berlin. I'd take the Berlin laid- back kindness mixed with the grizzled and blunt attitude of an old school native Brooklynite.

Security: I always feel pretty safe in NYC, because there are almost always plenty of people out on the streets.

Chaos and danger: There is something about the organized chaos of New York City that I really love. You don't know what you will find around a corner. There can be a film crew shooting or a man taking a crap on a sidewalk. It makes for interesting cocktail chat and creative inspiration.

Mixed Use - Creative/Culture Areas: New York does this mighty nicely, with work/live space where artists can paint or sculpt all day and then have awesome loft parties or dance exhibitions or rock shows in the evening. Ljubljana has Metelkova, but it is too grungey for my taste (plus it is only one place, not an area) as are these kinds of spaces in Berkeley and San Francisco. When it's done well, New York does it really smashingly and that would be a nice feature for my dream city.

My ideal city would have precious few cars and lots of bike lanes, buses, and subway lines...maybe some sort of congestion charge like in London to limit the number of cars in the center.

Public Space: I can't think of a city I've been to that really gets parks fabulously right (NYC does OK), but my dream city would have good green parks with ample space for exercising, walking animals, kids playgrounds, and public concerts and events.

New Orleans does this gorgeously. The city is so many different communities laid on top each other in so many fantastic formations focused on art, food, music, activism, academia.... They may not have the greatest work ethic but they do have a strong party ethic and a wonderfully unique culture that hold people together in good times and bad.

Dancing In The Street:
New Orleans wins for this one with its impromptu and very fun second line culture, though Berlin comes a close second with its "Any Reason is a Good Reason to Dance in the Street" attitude. New Orleans wins for better music. :)

*to be continually updated as I travel

Top 10 Cities I Think Will Affect My Vision After I Visit Them

1) Sao Paulo
2) Barcelona
3) Tokyo
4) Hong Kong
5) Dakar
6) Johannesburg
7) Bombay
8) Stockholm
9) Istanbul

What about you?


alcessa said...

Yeah, I'd recommend Stockholm for its greenery, Barcelona for its general artistic endeavour/richness, but I have never dreamt up a perfect city.
I've been dreaming about perfect outdoor excursions recently, shame on me, at my age. Like hiking for ages, spending half a year... don't know, moving in the Great Outdoors I guess. They come naturally, these dreams, almost no effort is involved... Old, am I? :-)

Camille Acey said...

old? no. you are just a good old-fashioned slovenian girl. i am, alas, a city girl through and through. i am surrounded by mountains and rivers and all i do is stay inside and dream of subways and loft parties

kalander said...

I've generally considered that moving every couple of months or so might be the way to go - for example:
Barcelona is absolutely awsome in February and March, then off to Tokio, before it gets too hot there; for summer I'd pick a bit of Scandinavia and a bit of San Diego and alternate it with other seaside cities like Dubrovnik on an annual basis. For Autumn I'd go to San Francisco, and then Ljubljana in November, just as a reminder of how the city looks at its most depressing. For winter I suppose New Zealand might be a good option, but some snow might also be nice every now and then.

Camille Acey said...

@kalendar - sounds like a good idea. alas, moving every couple months would be tough for me, since i love traveling but hate the discomfort of flying. i could live between two or three places in a year, no more.
i'd maybe just come to slovenia once a year in january for the novelty of snow.

Anonymous said...

reminds me of defining what my perfect flat would be: 3 bedrooms, close to kinoteka/kinodvor, camden and the nile, with a terrace overlooking old damascus. am working on it.

in reality, i'm quite happy in ljubljana, however, i think that if it had fewer commuters and more people actually living in the city, better public transport and better air it would be pretty damn perfect.


alcessa said...


BTW, as to the Scandinavian capitals (apart from Helsinki, because I haven't seen it yet): I think Copenhagen could be the most interesting. It has a very picturesque haven, enough greenery and parks and I think lots of very nice fashion to watch on the streets. It is also very clean.

Since I have a (retentive :-) gene for good urbanity, too, I really appreciated it very much. Apart from Tivoli, which I found disappointing. But that's the old-fashioned me (I really am) me again.

The only dreams I have these days concern my lottery win and the question what to do with the money (travel)...

alcessa said...

Recessive, not retentive.

Freud, go to bed, it is early still! LOL

Nikita said...

I live in Hong Kong (have lived there for a year) and to be honest, I'm not sure why people think it's so cool. Come see it if you must, but if you are a native New Yorker then I think you'll probably be disappointed! I'm from Toronto and find a number of striking similarities between Hong Kong and my hometown. Also, the weather in HK is deplorable... And I'm a big weather person. It's a cool place to live for a couple of years(as I am doing) but I could never see myself living here on a long term basis. Travelling around Asia is definitely cool though.

Camille Acey said...

hey nikita, i mostly want to go because my bro lives there (you guys should meet! see him here - i've heard HK is tiny and i would never dream of living there long term (i don't think he is gonna stay there very much longer), but i'm still interested to see it, if only for the food! :P

btw, i am not a native new yorker ;) i am born and raised in northern california.

paul t said...

Such a good idea. Since my wife and i had our honeymoon on the US west coast (+Vancouver) we've kind of collected city blocks to add to our perfect city - the block in SF with the Whiskey Thieves bar, a great diner, and great 70s(Rockford Files)-style Italian restaurant, perhaps LJ's river run with Maček etc, the secret passageways with fantastic real ale pubs of Leeds, definitely a coastal riva, the parks and park bars of Yerevan, Belgrade's street vending of 'gormand čevapi' and so on, a bit of Sarajevo's baščaršija ... just for a start ...

Nikita said...

hey camille,
well what do you know?! small world! would love to meet your bro. does he play at volar all the time? i've never been to that club... sorry to be forward but do you have his contact info? i always love meeting new people in hong kong, and am desperate to find a club that plays good music... so tired of the going out scene in hk.

that's so funny that i thought you were a native new yorker... not too sure why!

hk is hella tiny...which is why im so surprised that i havent met your brother there already!

Camille Acey said...

hey nikita, he is my brother of course i have his contact info. will email you at the hotmail address now.

Carlitos said...

Hey Camille! Hard to believe you didn't include my hometown, huge Buenos Aires, in your list. When it comes to culture, people spotting, things to do and places to go, it's hard to beat (probably NYC does top it).

And if you felt safe in NYC, you'll feel quite at home in BA (not so sure about Tokyo or Sao Paulo or Rio, mind you).

Go south! Give the capital of tango a try! :)

Camille Acey said...

@Carlitos - my younger bro lived in BA for six months and felt very...ostracized. it's like he didn't get to exhale until he got to brazil. i'm sure BA is beautiful and i'd be happy to see it but my brother's review made the difference as to whether it made the list or not. sorry dude.

Carlitos said...

Hmm, that's something I left out, you're right. And my something I mean that yeah, BA has a very small black population... is that why your brother felt left out like that?

Anyway, no harm done in telling you about it, and thank you for replying! :)

Camille Acey said...

Precisely Carlitos. Nonetheless he's a DJ and a good dude, so he fell in with this good crowd from Club Žižek - (of all things! eh?) and had a nice enough time in BA.

Aritul said...

Awesome city for me. The size is just write and it's not too far from the beach. I don't think I can ask for much more.

My father tells me that it is nice.

Buenos Aires
Would love to go there if only to see if it lives up to its reputation.

Lion-ess said...

Bergen and Istanbul for me