The Purpose of a City

Traveling to other cities, I look around and wonder what makes _______ so special.  It doesn’t matter the city.  Chicago, New York, London, Paris, all of them.

We are bombarded with these ideas of these cities, global cities, as special places above all others.  These are the cities where movies take place or celebrities live.  Places that draw hundreds of thousands of millions of tourists.  Something about them sets them apart from everywhere else.

But getting to the city and experiencing the city, you see similar things in each.  Coffee shops.  Laundromats.  Places for people to live.  Stores.  Every place will have their own twists and their own feel, but what makes walking through New York more of a thrill than walking through Cleveland?

What is a city beyond a place where people have congregated to settle down, live, and survive?

Looking at what draws tourists is also interesting and somewhat vague.  Staying with New York, what are the iconic tourist spots?  The Empire State Building is just an office building.  A tall office building with great architecture, but still an office building.  The Statue of Liberty is a monument, we’ll put that under public art.  Grand Central Terminal is a train station.  The museums.  Central Park.

Hardest to define is Times Square.  It is nothing more than a bunch of stores and restaurants.  Not even unique stores and restaurants, the same you’d find in other cities.  It draws people only on its image, the idea of it drilled into us by outside sources.

That in mind, the priority in developing cities should be what helps the people living there.  As Clevelanders, we can focus too much on our image from outside, if others see us as a “tourist” city.  While the city can create places that entice visitors then play those up, tourists will go where they want.

We can’t make Cleveland an overnight draw for tourism, and being cemented as a tourist city takes time.  What the city needs to focus on is its people and doing right by them.  Cities at their heart are made for the citizens who live there every day, not the tourists who stop in for a few days.


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