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The emergence of urban life has become part of its nostalgia and its fascination. Quotations that center on the "big city" often point to the indescribable component that makes it a unique experience. American artist Edward Hopper spoke to this in articulating the power of the big city: "Well, I've always been interested in approaching a big city in a train, and I can't exactly describe the sensations, but they're entirely human and perhaps have nothing to do with aesthetics." The explanation of the big city as something that lies beyond the reach of words and aesthetics contributes to its appeal. Hopper's ideas of the big city make it appealing, something that the individual will not be able to understand unless they actually live there.
A quote by Felicia Day speaks to the energy intrinsic to the big city. In her quotation, one recognizes the intangibles within the big city: "I had the typical 'get up and go' attitude that you have to have in order to make the brave step into the big city." This quote extols the spirit of vitality that is a part of the big city. The need to display energy, spirit, and a sense of toughness is a part of the big city mystique. It speaks to how a different type of "person" is needed in order to find success in the big city. The metropolitan setting is one in which the strong and focused thrive. Day's quote speaks to such a condition.
The song, "New York, New York," written by Ebb and Kander includes a similar praise of the big city. In this case, the subject is New York, and the lyrics reveal quotes that speak to the positive nature of the big city:
If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere,
It's up to you, New York, New York.
The idea of submitting oneself to something larger is a positive image of the big city. Specifically heard in the Sinatra version of the song, it speaks to how the big city is the ultimate test of one's will. It becomes the metric for one's success and their determination to achieve it. The song highlights how the big city represents the pinnacle of achievement.
Amidst the quotes about big city life, I constantly find ones that embrace the opportunity for anonymity. Small towns are often equated with small minds, and the city is set up as as an escape from others or even an escape from self. Whatever the case, the solace of being nameless can be seen in several stories involving the city.
“She missed the built environment of New York City. It was only in an urban landscape, amid straight lines and architecture, that she could situate herself in human time and history. She missed people. She missed human intrigue, drama and power struggles. She needed her own species, not to talk to, necessarily, but just to be among, as a bystander in a crowd or an anonymous witness.” A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
“I loved the city. We were anonymous, and even then I had the sense that cities were yielding; that they moved over and made room.” The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
“...the solitude was intoxicating. On my first night there I lay on my back on the sticky carpet for hours, in the murky orange pool of city glow coming through the window, smelling heady curry spices spiraling across the corridor and listening to two guys outside yelling at each other in Russian and someone practicing stormy flamboyant violin somewhere, and slowly realizing that there was not a single person in the world who could see me or ask me what I was doing or tell me to do anything else, and I felt as if at any moment the bedsit might detach itself from the buildings like a luminous soap bubble and drift off into the night, bobbing gently above the rooftops and the river and the stars.” In the Woods by Tana French
Another thing city-lovers tend to celebrate in a city is its size. There is always somewhere new to discover mixed in with your favorite spots, people are bustling everywhere, and it is always growing. Another quote from Hay's The Secret of Lost Things conveys this idea. “Liberation was in the very scale of the city: a goldfish bowl one could never grow to fit.”
Some people love the feeling of belonging to a big city and experience a fierce pride for it, claiming a certain ownership even while understanding they are sharing this city with many others. Truman Capote says, “I love New York, even though it isn't mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.”
Finally, a great appeal of the city is how much the shaping of it depends on its people, and how much the city is a product and catalyst of imagination and progress. Whether it is the businesses people start, the mode of travel they choose, or the leisure activities they demand, people play an active role in determining the layout and feel of a city.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
“Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
“Why do people resist [engines, bridges, and cities] so? They are symbols and products of the imagination, which is the force that ensures justice and historical momentum in an imperfect world, because without imagination we would not have the wherewithal to challenge certainty, and we could never rise above ourselves.” Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
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