Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Big City Attitudes

The stereotypes that you often hear are that small towns are friendly and that big city are rude, unfriendly places. I don’t know if that stereotype is still true in some places or if it was ever true but here on the east coast it’s almost impossible to gauge the small town from the suburb or ex-urb of the big cities. The east coast at times feels like just one giant metropolitan area especially from D.C. in the south to north of New York City in Hartford. The “small towns” that are in between these cities are often never more than 45 minutes to a city beltway or an hour from a city line and they are probably now filled with people who are now making an hour commute of more from the city.

So with this spatial mismatch of people the idea of a true small town to me is lost…or maybe it’s just lost along the I-95 corridor. As a community planner, I know of whole inner-city communities (usually ethnic-nationality or single industry communities) that literally picked up and moved into an outer ring suburb and then picked up and moved again to a further ex-urb. While those communities may have been long separated from their inner-city roots, they certainly maintained their inner-city characteristics, which are both good and not so pleasant at times. Like most northeastern and Midwest cities, there has been a purging of all types of communities leaving the city for it’s suburbs which now blurs the imaginary line of city and suburb leaving little distinction between the two in some parts.

Now when my family first moved to the Baltimore suburbs in the mid 1980’s, there were definitely some “Leave-it to Beaver” type neighborhoods. The neighborhoods where you would drive by and everyone would just smile and wave at random strangers. While appearance wise, those neighborhoods are still around; the people in them are definitely not around anymore. In fact there are very few of those “Leave it to Beaver” type neighborhoods around anymore, even in the ex-urbs. The stereotypical “big city attitude” is found everywhere throughout the east coast and most prevalent in the Mid Atlantic.

But what’s most ironic about “big city attitude” myth is that the nicest people I have met on a day to day basis, whether it be a neighbor or a random stranger are the people actually living inside the big cities. For all the flack that New York City and Philadelphia get for being rude, inhospitable, uncouth places, I have received the warmest greetings from total strangers in these big cities then I ever have in the suburbs of Baltimore and D.C. While it’s true the people living in bigger cities maybe more direct and aggressive, I bet you will be treated more kindly by strangers in Midtown Manhattan of Center City, Philadelphia then you would in downtown Baltimore or D.C.

What’s your opinion on this? Anyone else have any similar or different experiences?

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