What Does Your City Whisper to You?

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?



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