Paul Graham’s article about cities focuses on Cambridge, Silicon Valley and New York. Each city, according to Graham, sends a message:
Cambridge says “you should be smarter” – it is the city of intellect, the city of ideas.
Silicon Valley says “you should be more powerful” – it is the city of startups.
New York says “you should make more money” – it is the city of wealth/finance.
I’ve had the good fortune of living in all three places and I disagree with Paul about his take on New York (I also have a quibble about Silicon Valley, but we’ll get to that).
Cambridge definitely has the intellectual vibe. You feel it everywhere you go. But Cambridge is tiny. TINY. Once I graduated, I moved out of Cambridge and it was a completely different story. Davis Square is where Tufts is. It should be diverse, but every evening as I walked home from the T1, old white men sitting on their porches would stare at me as if I were from Mars. I’d walk by thinking “Come on, people! It is 1997!!! What’s so unusual about a brown chick?!” Then there’s Boston. Can you say homogeneous?? Even if it had every smart person in the world, I hope I don’t have to live there again.
Silicon Valley is wonderful. I spent seven incredible years there. And it is definitely about startups. But it is not just about power. It is also about money – where more money puts you higher on the status totem pole. A lot of discussions in Silicon Valley2 are about who made how much by selling to which company at the right time. And even if the crass component of “how much” someone made is not front and center, it is hovering in the wings. The infinitely more elegant “he’s done”3 is a commonly heard phrase.
And now we come to New York. I’ll be honest – when I moved here from Silicon Valley, I was quite miserable4. I missed California – the attitude, the people, the work, the weather, the calm, the space… everything. But as I spent more time in NYC, the more I started to enjoy it.
Yes, New York has its share of finance “neanderthals in suits”, but you really don’t have to see any of them if you don’t want to. In NYC, I can go days or weeks without having a conversation about technology if I so choose. And I’ve gone 5 years without having a single conversation about finance. In Silicon Valley, even the accountants and lawyers work for tech companies! In NYC, I meet people who have never heard of Twitter, Skype, TechCrunch or Valleywag. These people are dancers, artists, museum curators, actors, yoga instructors, photographers, architects… and that’s just in my building!! And none of these people are focused on making more money – they are focused on making an impact on their field – on being the best dancer/artist/curator/actor/yoga instructor/photographer/architect that they can be. I don’t know where Paul lived, but I have never felt like finance people are crawling all over NYC. Not once.
Professionally, my life in NYC has been about film and technology. There are some great startups in this city and every day, I see more being formed. And NYC is the indie film capital of the country with one of the best film schools in the world.
Personally, I’ve been privileged to go to the finest museums in the world – The Met, MoMA, Whitney and Guggenheim, attend stunning opera and ballet, watch free concerts in the park, eat at some of the best restaurants in the world, visit art galleries that are discovering wonderful new talent, listen to leading classical artists from India and the rest of the world perform here, attend lectures by Nobel Laureates, and take some wonderful classes in writing and film.
New York really has almost everything you can ask for. And because of its variety, it allows you to tailor your experience of it. You could see New York as just the artistic capital of the world, or just the culinary capital of the world, or just the indie film capital of the world. Or, as Paul did, the finance capital of the world.
And to me that says that New York is an incredibly diverse, incredibly interesting city. To someone who is open to the wealth5 of diversity that New York has to offer, to someone who is willing to sample the different facets, the city’s message is loud and clear – you should have a rich life!