What defines a great city?
More than anything I think the answer to this question is energy. There are many types of energy, but my favorite cities have a sense of positive energy and experimentation to them. I love Austin so much because it’s not run like clockwork—you can expect a parade, marathon, art show or food truck fair to interrupt the steady state of the city. These interruptions create wonderful opportunities for learning and experimentation with something outside of one’s comfort zone; they perpetuate a culture of action, change and flourish.
There are many other attributes that help define a great city, like the general attitude of the people, the weather and the cleanliness, but few are as singularly defining than the city’s cultural energy. Robert Pirsig tried to explain this same character through his elemental concept of “quality” in Lila, a remarkable dive into the very source of our social morals (and highly recommended sequel to his more famous Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).
What is one of your favorite cities?
Besides the obvious, I’ll say Vancouver, British Columbia. There’s a delightful interplay of humility, energy and beauty in Vancouver. I have never before or since felt the way I did after attending a fireworks show on the beach for Canada Day, while walking back to my hotel amidst tens of thousands of city residents who had taken over the streets. Cars were nowhere to be found and we effortlessly filled the streets, building to building with smiling faces and warm embraces, the city strong and welcoming all around us. Truly moving.