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Great essay on the subliminal messages that cities send, and the ambitions that drives - MtnVwPilot

Jun. 2nd, 2008 05:43 pm Great essay on the subliminal messages that cities send, and the ambitions that drives

Paul Graham (one of the partners in Y Combinator) recently posted a great essay on the subliminal messages that cities send, how that relates to personal ambitions, and why this leads to certain cities becoming and remaining centers for particular endeavors. Very thought-provoking.

Here's the opening; it gets even better from here:

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.

The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you've been meaning to.

When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers. As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful.

That's not quite the same message New York sends. Power matters in New York too of course, but New York is pretty impressed by a billion dollars even if you merely inherited it. In Silicon Valley no one would care except a few real estate agents. What matters in Silicon Valley is how much effect you have on the world. The reason people there care about Larry and Sergey is not their wealth but the fact that they control Google, which affects practically everyone.

Go read the full essay here... And don't skip the footnotes! ;-)

3 comments - Leave a commentPrevious Entry Share Next Entry


Date:June 3rd, 2008 04:21 am (UTC)
When you walk through Palo Alto in the evening, you see nothing but the blue glow of TVs. In Cambridge you see shelves full of promising-looking books. Palo Alto was probably much like Cambridge in 1960, but you'd never guess now that there was a university nearby. Now it's just one of the richer neighborhoods in Silicon Valley.

I said in 1990 that I couldn't tell that Palo Alto was home to a university.

Interesting essay. Makes me homesick for Cambridge. Though, if I ever get to go back, I still think I'll pick one of New England's rural university towns, like Hanover or Amherst.
Date:June 3rd, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
Good stuff - thanks!
Date:June 4th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
Thoughtful essay, but the thing that stands out most is that Graham completely ignores the fastest-growing cities (in population, economy, and influence) of the last decade. His simple analysis might hold true for NYC, Cambridge, Silicon Valley, or even Paris, but what about Shanghai, Dubai, Bangalore, Beijing, or Singapore?