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City Questions

Before launching into a tirade against intellectuals, Virginia Postrel poses some questions for discussion:

Is Boston good for aspiring models?
Is Manhattan a good place to raise children?
Is San Francisco good for conservatives?
Is Chicago good for vegetarians?
Is Silicon Valley good for artists?
Is Washington good for fashionistas?
Is Los Angeles good for pedestrians?
Not entirely sure I get the Boston question, but it's seems to me that it would be a terrible place to be an attractive woman who wants people to realize that she's attractive. You'll spend the bulk of the year looking like everyone else -- a giant bulky coat with a face grimacing from the cold. In addition, while I can't exactly speak from personal experience on this front, it seems to me that compared to other walkable cities Boston is, for reasons of both sidewalk design and ice coverage, unfriendly to stylish-but-impractical shoes.

Having been raised in Manhattan, I firmly believe that it's not only a good place to raise children, it's a fantastic place to raise children. If you can afford it, that is. Which is, needless to say, a very big if. So it sort of depends on your situation. I'm not very familiar with San Francisco, but I think it would be a great place to be, say, a conservative journalist because anytime you were hard up for a topic you could just write some lazy "look at me, I'm a conservative in San Fransisco!" story. I have no relevant information with regard to Silicon Valley or Chicago, but nothing could conceivably be a worse place for vegetarians than Russia's third city, Nizhny Novgorod, so there's always that. Everyone says the style situation in Washington is deplorable, but my sense is that this is one of several areas where the city merely suffers from invidious comparisons with New York and Los Angeles. It doesn't seem to me that it's any worse on this score than any of America's other cities, but I could be wrong about this. As for LA, Virginia hints that she may make the counterintuitive case for "yes." When I was in LA with my parents we stayed in Westwood which, despite the city's reputation, was a wonderful place to be a pedestrian. Totally walkable and with weather than made you actually want to walk around.

March 12, 2005 | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 14, 2005 8:31:06 PM


Santa Monica (which while technically not part of LA) has a beautiful park on a bluff overlooking the ocean, a lovely pier/beach area and a great pedestrian only shopping street, 3rd street. Of course what else would you expect from the "people's republic".

Posted by: samiam | Mar 12, 2005 8:55:12 PM

In California, the pedestrian ALWAYS has the right of way. Sure stepping off the curb in the middle of the street may be dumb, and maybe illegal, and you STILL have the right of way. Years before we were invaded by the other states, the drivers in LA and California were incredibly polite and good to pedestrians.

Posted by: jerry | Mar 12, 2005 9:00:19 PM

Draft Duncan Black for Pennsylvania 7th District in 2006!

Posted by: foo | Mar 12, 2005 9:01:16 PM

I'm not sure how one could argue that San Francisco (my hometown) is a bad place to be a conservative. Certainly, there aren't many of them and conservatives might dislike the blatant displays of social liberalism, but conservatives aren't flogged or laughed out of the city. There's plenty of politically neutral cultural and culinary delights in the city.

On the other hand, I think it's far more plausible that conservative cities (and especially small towns) might be a bad place to be a flaming liberal than the other way around.

As for Silicon Valley, Palo Alto has more than its share of art galleries and theatrical performances. San Jose is something of a soulless wasteland but Silicon Valley as a whole does have something of an arts scene.

Posted by: MattSchiavenza | Mar 12, 2005 9:03:13 PM

He'd have an easy time raising money, certainly.

I never got the 'New York is a hard place to raise kids' thing myself -- if you can afford to live here at all, the kids are easy. There's a million things to do with little kids, and once they're eleven or twelve, you can set them loose on the subway and they can get anywhere they could possibly need to go on their own. (Speaking as one who was once such an eleven-year-old). What could be better, or easier?

Posted by: LizardBreath | Mar 12, 2005 9:06:09 PM

The intended answers to her questions were No.

For obvious reasons in the narrow sense of what she was saying.

Posted by: Movie Guy | Mar 12, 2005 9:13:06 PM

Good for Virgina. Describes Dallas to a very big "D". By far the most average, median, normal, quotidian, unexceptional big city in the country. Makes Kansas City and Indianapolis look exotic.

Her main point however is of course that brand spanking new Dallas Morning News editorial page editor is a pathetic imported rightie geek who should get the heck out of my town. We were plenty conservative for a hundred years without him, and we sure as heck don't need to think about it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 12, 2005 10:04:44 PM

I'm a Chicagoan vegetarian, and I don't see the problem. Of course, I live in Hyde Park, the economy of which has been warped by the University of Chicago, and colleges tend to have (I think) a higher-than-normal proportion of vegetarians. Still, even when I was visiting my grandfather's house up in Evanston, that was when I originally decided to become a vegetarian. Of course, Evanston's economy is in turn somewhat distorted by Northwestern.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Mar 12, 2005 10:07:38 PM

I'm a pure meatatarian but Chicago is loaded with vegetarian restaurants. In fact, take a stroll down Devon Avenue and the dozens of Indian restaurants offer delicious vegetarian fare. Much of the yuppie Lincoln Park/Lakeview area is filled with alternative/vegetarian/vegan food. Chicago is a great city for meatlovers like me, but it's hardly restrictively so. Kansas City would probably be a harder place to be a vegetarian, though I bet there are some good vegetarian places in Westport.

Posted by: Elrod | Mar 12, 2005 10:10:38 PM

{anytime you were hard up for a topic you could just write some lazy "look at me, I'm a conservative in San Fransisco!" story.}

Well, your path is clear. Move to our nation's heartland, and you're assured of "Look at me, I'm a jewish liberal Harvard-grad in Enid, Oklahoma/San Antonio, Texas/Colorado Springs!"

{Westwood which, despite the city's reputation, was a wonderful place to be a pedestrian.}

Westwood (and Santa Monica) also have a very good public transit system: The Big Blue Bus (as seen in SPEED). These little gems go all over place, are cheap, and reliable. Plus, the weather (but not the traffic) is amenable to bicycling. There's also very little smog in Santa Monica/Westwood - the constant ocean breeze blows it inland.

As for Silicon Valley - the art scene isn't world-class, but you're a short freeway or, BART, or CalTrain ride (a commute that hundreds of thousands make each day) from SF and Berkeley, which have plenty of big institutions (galleries, operas, symphonies, theatres), and small scenes and sub-scenes.

Posted by: FMguru | Mar 12, 2005 10:22:13 PM

I'm a Calgarian who rides a bicycle all year round.

Posted by: Les Ismore | Mar 12, 2005 10:24:20 PM

Having lived in Plano, a suburb of Dallas, I couldn't resist tracking down the original opinion pieces on whether Dallas is good for smart people. There were three: pro, con, and on the fence. I gather that if you're a conservative pro-business intellectual, Dallas is a fine place to be. And for more generic intellectuals, one of the best small museums in American is nearby, though you have to go to Fort Worth(!) for that.

The Dallas blogger seems entirely dismissive of the question, though, except as a springboard for a minor rant against intellectuals. I wonder why her list of questions wasn't more provocative? I do love the sweeping generalizations implied by such questions:

Is New Orleans good for clumsy people?
Is Seattle good for people who watch a lot of television?
Is New York good for stupid people?
Is Washington, DC, good for neat people?
Is San Francisco good for ugly people?

No, I don't mean anything by the question, I'm just asking. . .

Posted by: RSA | Mar 12, 2005 10:30:15 PM

Seems to be just another "let's toss all the cliches in the pot on the wall and see what sticks", I agree completely with Jerry, Los Angeles is a great place to be a pedestrian and not just in the uber-rich areas like Brentwood, Westwood or Beverly Hills.

Whether you can get anything done as a pedestrian because everything is so spread out, that's a whole other point completely.

Posted by: Greg | Mar 12, 2005 10:35:54 PM

LA is a fine place to be a pedestrian for the purposes of taking a stroll. However, it's a very bad place to be a pedestrian for the purposes of getting to the various places you need to go (as compared to SF, NY, Boston).

Posted by: djw | Mar 12, 2005 10:56:03 PM

I can say without apology that it surprised me the first time I saw kids going to school in Manhattan, just because I'd not spent that much time there, and it clashed with the film/TV Manhattan that any non-native brings subconsciously to the city. But I can well imagine it being a fantastic place to grow up. I had a similar double-take the first time I saw kids taking the Tube to and from school in London, or the Metro in Paris, but again, that's a subconscious conception based upon the mediated image of both cities.

Postrel is just a bloody hack, though. I'm surprised she didn't give up writing for good after Tom Frank's demolition of her dichotomising style in One Market Under God. I would have, but I have self-respect.

I think it's far more plausible that conservative cities (and especially small towns) might be a bad place to be a flaming liberal than the other way around.

Quite. In those situations, you're more likely to be considered a threat. Which is why small college towns surrounded by much more conservative rural areas (e.g. Athens, GA; Oxford, MS; Johnson City, TN) are, um, interesting places to live.

Posted by: ahem | Mar 12, 2005 10:56:48 PM

The funniest thing about Postrel's post is the idea that anyone east of Tyler, north of OKC, west of Wichita Falls or south of Waco, gives a rat's ass about Dallas one way or the other.

Posted by: ktheintz | Mar 12, 2005 11:04:41 PM

Why even pay attention to someone who states "Intellectuals are weird"? Rubes want to live in those places that smart people fly over going from one interesting place to another. They can have their idiotic basketball hoops over the garage, vote George W Bush, and wonder why they can't afford health care working at Wal-Mart.

And I'm always suspicious of anyone who claims to know the definition of "normal people"...

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Mar 12, 2005 11:14:21 PM

Now that I live in the capital of Fashion-land (also known as A Fine Place to Raise Kids), can we just say what Matt tried to avoid - that Washington is lousy for fashionistas? Having lived in both DC and NYC, Washington is the epitome of uptight, why-would-you-wear-that, take-no-chances dressing. And that was when they had Garfinckel's.

Boston, on the other hand, seems to be a fine place for aspiring models... to go to college.

However, Washington is good for neat people, and NYC is difficult for the stupid, but then, look at those aspiring models who didn't make it to Boston... :)

Posted by: weboy | Mar 12, 2005 11:49:33 PM

I care about Dallas when its time for the Eagles to beat the Cowboys! The premise of the entire exercise is that people like and/or need to be around like-minded people. If people are intolerant of you, that's a problem, so being gay someplace might be hard. (I don't want to slander a city I've never been to . . .) The same thing with being a conservative in NYC, although the only people who'd really have a problem are those people whose conservatism is so constitutive of their identity that they can't deal. The same goes for people who are "smart" in Dallas, i.e., so convinced of their own intelligence that they implicitly look down upon everyone else. Dallas happens to be an objectively awful place to live, but that's not because of poor benighted intelligence.

Washington is the capital of pleated pants. Hideous fashion. And people in Dallas may LIKE their women pretty, but only if you like big hair and too much makeup. The Eagles beat the 'Boys handily on the field and in the cheering department.

Ain't nothing wrong with the basketball hoop over the garage, Screweyrabbit. And there are a hell of a lot of stupid people on the coasts, let's keep in mind. It's called *diversity*.

Posted by: db | Mar 12, 2005 11:50:37 PM

I'd like to ask a question of the Dallas natives:
Does anyone actualy live in Dallas? I don't mean the suburbs, Dallas proper. I went for a conference there last year and at night the streets were practically deserted. Having lived in or near crowded cities my whole life, it was shocking to see sky scrapers (sort of) with empty sidewalks.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Mar 13, 2005 12:55:10 AM

San Francisco used to be a great place to be a conservative - it's an incredible concentration of all of the worst caricatures of left-wing politics imaginable, and this is a huge advantage in political debates. Religious nutjobs from Kansas are out of sight, out of mind, but you get front page articles about how the plan to revamp the United Nations Plaza was modified to get buyoff from the homeless people who live there and bathe in the fountain. Plus, you get a lots of practice organizing and presenting your ideas to a hostile audience.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration is annoying enough that merely disclaiming support for *them* is insufficient, their ickiness contaminates the entire conservative enterprise.

Posted by: Jake McGuire | Mar 13, 2005 1:34:54 AM

"Does anyone actually live in Dallas?"

Somewhere under 10-50k lives downtown,not counting hotels. Probably the low side of that.
And the skyscrapers are far from fully leased, so it is by big city standards, not that busy during the day.

Activity picks up pretty fast as you move out from the center, especially north. There is a freeway circling the city maybe ten miles out, and the northern quarter of that circle has dozens of 20-50 story buildings, office parks, multi-hotel areas,entertainment strips, apartment areas....enough to be considered a metro area in its own right.

Maybe racist zoning and development, but everything white and commercial built North, blacks are South and SE, Hispanics west...traffic goes around downtown or thru it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 13, 2005 2:54:17 AM

I grew up in actual Dallas. Bob, where do you live?

The author of the original piece used to write for the National Review. Homeschools his kids...enough said.

Posted by: Jeff | Mar 13, 2005 3:45:23 AM

"I grew up in actual Dallas. Bob, where do you live?"

Oak Lawn for ten years, then one of the suburbs for twenty.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 13, 2005 8:26:46 AM

You'll spend the bulk of the year looking like everyone else -- a giant bulky coat with a face grimacing from the cold.

C'mon Matt, don't exaggerate. You're memory is no doubt clouded by the fact you didn't spend your summers here.

Boston's climate is actually quite ideal, from 'round about St. Patrick's Day to Thanksgiving. And the real wintry weather doesn't settle in until almost Christmas. Although this year winter has admitedly sucked big-time, we normally get about three nasty months and nine pretty decent months. And even these three nasty months see average temperatures (because of the ocean) that are higher than those in much of the upper Midwest. Not, of course, that any of what I just wrote is going to deter me from my plan to one day winter in Florida.

Posted by: P. B. Almeida | Mar 13, 2005 8:29:43 AM

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