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My Case for Urbanism – Or Why I Love NYC

Photo: Professor Bop

Street of NYC (Photo: Professor Bop, Flickr)

It's a new year and that often means time for reflecting on the previous year. While thinking back to the events that shaped my life in 2012, I have been fortunate. My best memories have been the three trips I took to New York City.

New York isn't new to me. In fact, I used to live in the Hudson Valley, just 60 miles north of NYC. I would often take trips to the city by Metro North train on weekends.

The fact that New York was exciting for me in 2012 was because I had a three-year absence from the city. From 2008 to 2011 I made no trips to NYC. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. There was no closer truth between me and New York.

My first visit to the city in 2012 was for a long weekend. The weather may have been cold, but the city's embrace was warm. In fact, I feel a closeness to the city. Regarding my frequent trips, someone recently asked, "Do you have a girlfriend there you aren't telling us about?" I do, indeed. The city itself.

I see nothing wrong with being in love with a city. There are many reasons why I feel as strongly as I do and many of those reasons relate to urbanism itself.

Photo: Cheo70

NYC in the rain (Photo: Cheo70, Flickr)

My Case for Urbanism
Urbanists have an understanding that cities offer not only more choices, but also greater opportunities. Creativity seems to be more abundant, as artists, musicians and creative types come together. Cities are an epicenter of diversity. And cities are also attracting the world's top talent.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Richard Florida writes about the current trend for tech companies to relocate to urban areas where mixed-use neighborhoods are abundant. He notes that while Silicon Valley is still the top place for the tech industry, urban centers such as New York and London are becoming more popular. On New York, Florida writes:

New York City's Silicon Alley–after a false start during the tech bubble of the late 1990s–is now home to more than 500 start-up companies like Kickstarter and Tumblr, not to mention the gigantic Google satellite in the old Port Authority Building on Eighth Avenue between 15th and 16th streets.

Indeed, New York's startup and tech hub has been growing over the past few years, making it the second largest U.S. tech area, second only to Silicon Valley. But, tech companies aren't the only ones interested in this urban trend of relocating to city centers.

Being a fan of the tech industry and as a techie myself, I am attracted to being surrounded by the type of growth and development Florida mentions. He also notes that part of the reason tech companies are transferring to cities is that the employees are looking for places that offer urban amenities. Florida writes that "[t]hey prefer to live in central locations, where they can rent an apartment and use transit or walk or bike to work, and where there are plenty of nearby options for socializing during non-work hours." Ditto! I feel strongly about this and it is the reason why I love cities.

Being able to walk out of my apartment to a coffee shop around the corner, to get lunch, meet a friend, or shop has its benefits. I gave up my car a year ago and haven't missed it since. For short trips, I ride a bike, for longer trips, I take public transit. Having access to the things I need nearby is beneficial. Walkability is essential for being able to have access to these amenities. And cities offer walkability.

Photo: Professor Bop

Walking in NYC (Photo: Professor Bop, Flickr)

Cities also offer the strange things, the things you may not see elsewhere. There could be a surprise waiting just around the corner. Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities that "[b]y its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange." On the other side of the scale, romance is never far away. A violinist in Central Park is always a welcome surprise.

As a means of inspiration and innovation, cities offer opportunities many may not find elsewhere. These opportunities also come with the ability to have within one's reach, a plethora of places to shop, eat, meet, and share knowledge and ideas. As Richard Florida notes:

Cities are central to innovation and new technology. They act as giant petri dishes, where creative types and entrepreneurs rub up against each other, combining and recombining to spark new ideas, new inventions, new businesses and new industries.

After looking back at 2012 and the time I spent in NYC, I have decided that my goals for 2013 should include exploring more of the city I love and hearing what others like about cities.

Do you consider yourself an urbanist? Do you have a love for cities? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Together, we can build more innovative cities.

Ash Blankenship