This thread is about American cities. I am curious to hear everyone’s opinion—Americans and non-Americans—on their favorite major American city and the reasons why. I have always been fascinated by urban issues, which is tied in many ways to aviation and transportation. Anyhow, I hope this thread has some meaningful discussion and does not become a pissing contest over the merits of Miami’s nightlife versus New Orleans’s nightlife, as the last similar thread quickly became. I have also included my opinions on the aviation infrastructure in the cities I mention. This is a long post, but I appreciate your patience and thank anyone who ventures to read the entire thing!
As for myself, I grew up in New York City. I was one of those people who always thought New York City was the center of the world, and could never imagine living elsewhere. Or to quote John Updike, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” In fact, some of my early posts on A.net very much reflect that attitude. I overlooked or was blind to New York’s many shortcomings—the decaying infrastructure, etc etc.
College brought me to Washington, DC, where I have lived for the past several years. I don’t quite know how I wound up in DC—I guess I really loved politics, I liked that it was close to NYC, and I always just assumed that college would be a four year experience followed by a return to New York. Anyway, needless to say I fell in love with Washington and have no plans to leave anytime soon. Over my years there, I have come to appreciate the differences between Washington and New York, while enjoying both cities for what they offer.
I find Washington to have all of the advantages of New York—a powerful cosmopolitan international city—without any of the disadvantages—poor infrastructure, relatively dirty, congested, etc. It feels like a small town but is in reality a major world city, perhaps the most important in the country and world. I love how all of the great neighborhoods are close to each other. I love walking around the city, and I love how pretty it is, especially in spring. It has wonderful cultural activities from the many museums to the Kennedy Center. It has great dining and wonderful ethnic food. Some call it “Hollywood for ugly people,” but I really do enjoy it when I see a “DC VIP” like George Stephanopoulos or Charlie Rangel walking around. For whatever reason, I think many people visit DC and find it to be boring—they think that it’s just a lot of monuments, but no real city. Well I think this is because it is hard to see everything on a short trip. It took me a while after moving there to explore all the areas, etc, and I am still finding new stuff now!
Now I should be clear about something. There are two DCs. There is the stereotypical one of violence and poverty, and this does exist in three of the four quadrants of the city. So when I am referring to the city, I am talking about Northwest, where I live, and where most professionals live. Northwest is where all the nice areas are, where the White House is, where all of the big law firms and companies are, etc. But there are also two New Yorks: Manhattan and everything else. And there are many parts of “everything else”, such as East New York, that are as bad as the poor areas of Washington. I just wanted to clear that up.
Anyhow, my mom jokes that the reason DC is in much better shape than New York is because the President lives there. Well I think there is some truth to this, in a general sense. You’re not going to find potholes on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the city is MUCH cleaner than New York.
Other advantages of DC. DC and Northern Virginia and the Maryland Suburbs = one large metropolitan area that is relatively new. Northern Virginia has been built up an incredible amount, and now has the HQs of a lot of businesses, especially in the defense industry. From where I live in DC, I love that I can easily drive out to the Northern Virginia suburbs for shopping or dinner. From NYC to drive out to the comparable suburbs would be a 1 ½ hour drive if there was no traffic. In DC, I can easily go to Pentagon City, or to Tyson’s Corner. Transportation is better (Metro access), and the roads are nicer to drive on. I love just how many different nice areas there are in the Washington metropolitan area. There is Bethesda, Potomac, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, and many more, all relatively close to the city. From Manhattan, you have Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx!
Finally, the airport situation is quite nice as well. DCA
is one of the nicest airports in the world. The main terminal is gorgeous, it is always pretty quiet, you can walk from the curb to your gate in less than five minutes, and it is GREAT for people spotting. I once did the math and forget the number, but there is a flight to NYC on average of once every 25 minutes or so during the day. I love the feeling that I can be anywhere in DC, decide that I want to go to New York, get in a cab to DCA
, and be on the next Delta Shuttle and be in NYC two hours later (not that I ever spontaneously do this, but I like the feeling nonetheless!) I’ve actually never flown from BWI
, but many people schlep up there because of WN
. But WN
also now flies from IAD
, which can be a pain to get to during rush hour, but otherwise is not bad, especially if a friend drives you. In my opinion, IAD
is nothing special. The main terminal is nice from a historical aviation perspective, but the multiple concourses can be a pain. It will be nice once the underground people mover opens. I do, however, really like Concourse B. It has great stores and restaurants and has a nice mix of airlines (everything from jetBlue to Southwest to Virgin Atlantic to Air France).
I’ll end with a quote from the late Tim Russert about living in Washington: “Two things. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family; it has the civility of a small town but the energy of a great international city. Two, it’s filled with good and interesting people from all across the country who came here well-intentioned—you may not always agree with them, but they do want to do the right thing.” This sums up how I feel about Washington.
Now all of this being said, at least at this point in my life, NYC will still be “home,” partly because my family is still there and that is where I go for the holidays, etc. I still consider myself a New Yorker, and JFK
is still my favorite airport in the world and that will never change. BUT, I am thrilled that I am able to have two identities as a New Yorker and as a Washingtonian. Two or so years ago I went through a phase where I was constantly criticizing New York and comparing it to DC in every possible way. But I have since realized I was wrong to compare them and constantly brag to my family about how much nicer DC was than NYC. In truth, both are great cities and they complement each other nicely. After all, there is a reason there are flights every 25 minutes between NYC and DC, in addition to the dozens of trains per day, even more buses, and thousands of people driving between the two cities on a daily basis. Both are huge metropolitan areas that deserve recognition as great cities.
There are also some things that New York has that DC does not. NYC truly is a 24-hour city; DC is not, but this does not bother me. NYC does have more diversity than DC, but it also has more than any place in the world. DC still has a lot of diversity though. One thing that NYC had that DC didn’t was that NYC was the headquarters of global finance. But in recent months, this has ebbed and some have argued that DC has usurped NYC as the real major decisions regarding the financial sector have been made in DC (the bailout decisions, etc). Another thing is that New York City is one of the best integrated cities in the world. DC, along with most other American cities, is still more or less de-facto segregated. In NYC, everyone more or less lives together—the Blacks, the Hispanics, the Jews, the Asians, and every other assorted minority. This is not to say that there aren’t still some racial tensions, but it is better now than at any time in my memory. I attribute a lot of this to a post 9/11 New York, and to the general improvements in New York City over the past twenty years.
Finally, since I mentioned the DC airport situation, let me say a word about NYC’s airports. None are as nice as DCA
, however, NYC has a lot of things going for it. EWR
is a global hub for Continental as well as having more service from random international airlines than most other American cities. Continental at EWR
is the closest thing the United States has to a true global intercontinental hub—service to every major American city, every major European city, and a handful of cities in the Middle East, South America, and Asia. LGA
is a very convenient airport for business travelers, but the main Central terminal is showing its age. The US Airways terminal is nice, but severely underused. The Delta terminal is old already. The only truly great thing at LGA
is the Marine Air Terminal and the Delta Shuttle service. Finally, JFK
is a wonderful airport though it has its downsides like every other one. But jetBlue is one of the nicest airlines in the country to fly, and can get you to most anywhere from JFK
out of their gorgeous new terminal. American has an impressive terminal as well, and while it does not operate a hub on the scale of Continental at EWR
, it still has a great operation. In fact, one could argue that it’s even better than Continental’s EWR
operation because it focuses on a few select routes. For example, American doesn’t operate to a ton of cities, but they do have multiple 777s on JFK
, flagship service to LAX
, and a significant amount of flights to the Caribbean/Central & South America, as well a handful of other European and Asian (well one) destinations. Delta has also built up quite a nice operation, somewhat comparable to CO
but less so in my opinion. Also, Delta is constrained by the fact that it operates out of two terminals that were designed in and for a different era. British Airways has its own terminal, and has a nice presence in the JFK
-England market. And finally, there are the assorted international airlines. There are probably more at JFK
than in any other city in the United States. Airlines like EgyptAir, Uzbekistan, Czech, etc. All in all, a great airport.
In short, I still say that NYC is wonderful, but I am of the opinion that there are other great places to live as well. I am still mindful when people, including posters on A.net, bash New York as a recent thread did. At the same time, I am equally disdainful of those who believe there is NO place to live BUT New York City. I recognize that New York City has its shortcomings, like any other city. But it is still the closest thing we have to a capital of the world.
Next on my list is Miami/Miami Beach. Boy, I do love Miami. Like many New Yorkers, I grew up traveling to South Florida at least once a year and often several times a year (there is a reason why South Florida is called New York City’s “sixth borough” and why JFK
is the most heavily traveled air route in the country!). So it has always felt like a second home to me. But in the last few years I have grown to love it even more. It has a wonderful history, amazing diversity, great food, culture, and shopping, and of course, it’s HOT
! I personally enjoy it in the off-season (summer), when you can jump into the ocean and it feels like you are entering a hot tub. But even in the winter, it is an amazing feeling to leave the cold winters and a few hours later to be sitting at News Cafe on Ocean Drive in South Beach. I love the Latin feel to the city, and the nice European presence as well. I also like how large the city and surrounding areas are. An hour or so drive to Boca, a 1 ½ hour drive to Palm Beach. I love having wonderful Cuban food at Versailles in Little Havana and then driving down Calle Ocho to Brickell, where a TON of new buildings have gone up in the last ten years, and downtown, which is undergoing a revitalization as well. Approaching Miami from I-95, Miami now has a bigger downtown than most other American cities. Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, and all of the other neighborhoods are luscious and very pleasant. Finally, from an aviation perspective, you have three large airports, with MIA
being perhaps the third best airport for spotting in the United States (after JFK
, in my opinion). The new Concourse H/J at MIA
looks wonderful, though I have yet to fly from there. In another few years when all of the construction is done, MIA
will be a world-class airport.
I don’t think I would ever want to live in Miami, but I would love, in a dream world, to have a condo down there and fly down there whenever I need to escape the Northeast. Perhaps the thought of that will give me an incentive to continue to work hard in life
Those are my three favorite cities in the United States. I feel lucky to be associated with all three of them. Briefly about other cities. I have traveled to a lot of small and mid-size cities in the United States, but there are still a lot that I have not been to (Chicago and Houston being the two most important that I have yet to visit).
A city such as Charlotte seems rather ordinary to me—I don’t know why anyone would choose to live there over other places in the country, except if you worked for one of the big banks headquartered there. I visited Atlanta this past year and enjoyed it, although I could not see myself ever living there. San Francisco is one of the few places in the United States that reminds me of New York. I love the diversity, but I don’t like the amount of homeless people all over the place nor do I like the cool weather. Boston and Philadelphia are also nice, but the downtowns struck me as quite grungy (perhaps I was in the wrong areas). I have not thoroughly explored Los Angeles, but in my two times there I found it to be too spread out. Finally, a word about Las Vegas. I have traveled to Las Vegas five times in my life, more than any other place with the exception of South Florida. Las Vegas has always been one of my favorite cities, although I could never see myself living there. There is something so uniquely American about Las Vegas—I love flying there and looking down to the empty barren desert for a long time before suddenly appearing over the city and landing at McCarran. I always think to myself “Who thought to make a city here?”! I love how you can turn 360 degrees and be looking at the mountains in the distance the entire time. I love the sheer amount of huge resorts on such a small road. Las Vegas to me is a dream. You go there to get away, to feast, to utterly relax, and to soak it all in. In short, you go there to live a life that you can’t live at home. Of course, this view ignores the millions of people who ACTUALLY live there and support the industry that everyone else comes to Las Vegas for.
The United States is truly blessed with so many wonderful and different cities that are all part of our country. I look forward to hearing everyone’s opinions. For those of you who have read this far, I thank you for reading and wish you a Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year!
"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon"