What Does Your City Whisper to You?

What Does Your City Whisper to You? post image

Every time I am in New York, I think about an article by Paul Graham called “Cities and Ambition.”


The idea is that cities send signals through a variety of means – from overheard conversations, to architecture, to how residents decorate their living rooms. Like great books, great cities whisper their messages subliminally.

Graham suggests that the signals from great cities are even clearer. And here’s what he’s heard from some of them:

  • New York – “you should make more money.”
  • Boston (Cambridge) – “you should be smarter.”
  • Silicon Valley – “you should be more powerful.”
  • Berkley, CA – “you should live better.”
  • Washington, DC – “the most important thing is who you know.”
  • Los Angeles – “be more famous.”
  • Paris – “do things with style.”

But, although the messages in big cities like New York might be clearer, it doesn’t stop me from listening for whispers everywhere I go.

Graham describes location as an expansive opportunity for young people, saying “if you look at the historical evidence… [m]ost people who did great things were clumped together in a few places where that sort of thing was done at the time.”

He then asks: “will the next generation of people doing great things network virtually, and at the occasional conference?”

The jury is still out.

In the meantime, it’s a fun game to play. How does your city rub off on you? In your industry or practice, where are the best people gathering?

Here are some whispers that I hear:

  • San Diego – “go outside and enjoy your life (by following your hobbies).”
  • Barcelona – “go outside and enjoy your life (with your friends and family).”
  • Austin – “your project and interests are accepted and cool”
  • Ho Chi Minh City – “make something of yourself.”

So, I’m curious.

What does your city whisper to you?



PS, you can subscribe to the TMBA here.

Published on 04.11.17
  • London: “Work hard to find your niche”

    Not from me, but fits: Berlin: “If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere”

  • Glen

    Brighton, England – Do it Yourself first then Do it Together

  • Preston Rohner

    Park City, Utah, USA: “Cool, glad you made it here, let’s have some fun”

  • 10th Amendment is the Solution

    Seattle (and the state of Washington) whispers, “Pay us so much in taxes that it drives you to fire your employees and hire them back as contractors, then move your business out of town” (which I did)…I will be setting up the online aspect of my business in Hong Kong or Singapore, thanks to the great info from TMBA – Mark …………..Sorry to be a Nagative Nellie, but Seattle (& Wa State) just doesn’t get it…they lost Boeing to South Carolina….maybe when Amazon or one of the other biggies packs their bags and leaves for Texas, the City and State ‘leaders’ will figure it out.

  • Mike Ziarko

    Toronto and Berlin – “Be whoever the fuck you want to be”

  • 10th Amendment is the Solution

    How are taxes and other costs of doing business….Utah is a beautiful place. Park City? …maybe a good place to set up shop?

  • Sigurd Kvernmoen

    São Paulo – “Space to ponder the meaning of life”

  • Roberto Atienza

    Hong Kong – “Make. More. Money.”

  • Zak Columber

    Chiang Mai – “You are accepted as you are. Oh, and slow down a little bit – what’s the rush?”

  • Natalie N

    Berlin — “Do what you want, or not, it’s up to you”.

  • Matthew Newton

    Man, Santiago…

    ‘Welcome to the rat race’

    Nice city but a LOT of people on the hamster wheel.

  • dang that’s a bummer! :D

  • i like that “or not”

  • totally like that one

  • and… “Eat. More. Noodles!”

  • interesting!

  • interesting never heard that about Toronto, perhaps that’s your inner voice!?

  • ha bummer! guess they’ve had a good run.

  • sounds good to me.

  • very interesting, what does that mean to you?

  • only been in London for one weekend in my life but if feels like one of the ‘placiest’ places i’ve ever been. looking forward to returning in a few months time, will be listening for the whispers. i like the ‘anti-ambition’ messages from Berlin, Austin has a similar ‘acceptance’ vibe going on

  • Preston Rohner

    I have only been here about 8 months and haven’t filed taxes yet. Generally gas taxes are much less than California was. Park City has a lot of outdoor activity (especially skiing and mountain biking). I currently work remotely for a California-based company so I don’t really know about the business environment here. My wife and I moved here for the lifestyle for ourselves and our kids. People are kind and take time to get to know each other. :)

  • sounds great! are most people transplants like yourself or are there a lot of locals there?

  • Jesse Lawler

    Portland, Oregon – “You’re far from the weirdest one here. Pull up a chair!”

  • haha. let’s have a weird off!

  • Preston Rohner

    Nearly everyone I have met is also a transplant. That also means that nearly everyone at some point has taken control of their lives, made choices, taken action, and made it to Park City. People are very happy to be here. There’s a degree of homogeneity in that people here do tend to be very active participants in their lives (versus passive victims of their lives).

  • Roberto Atienza

    Manila – “Bahala na” (literally “Leave it to God”) / “Come what may” / “Que sera sera”

  • interesting insight, sounds a bit like certain expat communities.

  • fascinating, i’ve heard that but never put it to words! well done.

  • RadPirateship

    Philly: STFU and get on with it

  • New York for me, right now is whispering “Aim higher, move faster”

    There is some level of “But don’t forget almost everyone here is full of bullshit” as well

  • “trudge on through.” things are getting brighter in the city no?

  • move fast for sure. the quality of eavesdropping in NYC is low IMO. almost no one seems to have friends, so many conversations are over-eager meta interest based (like one big meetup.com event), things get even worse when they turn from interests to aspirations. Noise canceling headphones when in public a necessity.

  • % of people in central park on business or life-direction related phone calls? (talking loudly) :(

  • Cyrus Julian

    But there are tons of chicks there compared to almost everywhere else in US ;)

  • RadPirateship

    Yea, the city is definitely going through a renaissance, new construction everywhere and attracting lots of businesses. I actually haven’t lived there full time in almost 4 years since I started traveling but I meant it more in a “no bullshit, we’re here to hustle” way. Still has that east coast attitude that is the opposite of a Portland or LA.

  • totally i’m thoroughly impressed. i grew up 1.5 hours away and didn’t think much of it, especially when friends from high school moved there after college. visited a few years ago for an event and was so impressed. felt like it’s got a lot of new life in it combined with the soul and grit it always had.

  • West LA – “wait, you haven’t done this/been here before?”

  • Evaldas Miliauskas

    Dubai – “what comfort do you seek?”

  • that’s interesting. all i can think of is ‘such a nice place!’ :)

  • duty free? :P

  • I love this discussion. Atlanta: “Do the next thing.” Which sometimes means, “strive to create and innovate” but also has shallower connotations, like “move on if this thing isn’t shiny enough anymore.”

    Maybe that’s why the traffic is so notoriously bad – everyone’s trying to get to the next thing!

  • that’s fascinating, i’ve never heard a message quite like that.

  • Yeah, it’s kept me here for 15 years now despite the lack of ocean…there are a ton of opportunities here for entrepreneurs because people love something novel or innovative. But it can also be a bummer. People move on *from* Atlanta to do the next thing. And though people are open to change and trying new things, they aren’t always willing to go deep enough or be patient enough for the magic to happen.

  • not the first time I’ve heard this of the entrepreneurial community in Atlanta (the amount of opportunities). Thanks for sharing!

  • Rob Campbell

    Wander up to Harlem next time you’re there. I lived north of 125th between Malcom X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (or 6th and 7th Ave for the rest of you). Completely different feel in terms of people, culture, and environment. It is, first and foremost, Harlem, with all of that history and culture, still alive. And there is a vibrant expat, immigrant, and entrepreneur/creative community; be sure to check out http://www.mistharlem.com for that last scene. And the smaller cafes and restaurants in the neighborhoods.

    All this a mile from the top of Central Park, which is the best place to start your run or ride (although I always loved getting to the south end and gliding among the thousands of people who came to check out for a few days the place I was privileged to live).

    I’m missing it and looking forward to being back there in May for DCxNYC.

  • thank you Rob! There’s a great crew here awaiting your return! :D

  • Amy White

    Nice article! very well expressed the elements. Lots of useful information here. I appreciate you writing this article.

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