Recently I wrote about how some people highly value a city’s “interesting-ness” and some could care less. The article I linked to discussed how cities rated as highly livable tend to not be the cites so many people apparently want to move to. These “un-livable” cities are the big, messy metropolises like Boston, New York, Washington, LA, and San Fransisco.
These big cities are what I call “love it or hate it cities.” I’ve observed a wide polarization of opinions about these cities. For example, regarding my future home, half of people tell me they “love DC” and half “hate DC.” I hypothesized that part of this polarization can be explained by different valuations for the amenity of “interesting-ness” that such cities offer. Interesting-ness is often not well correlated with inexpensive, easy to navigate, or clean.
This reminded me of Merle Haggard’s hit “Big City”:
I’m tired of this dirty old city.
Entirely too much work and never enough play.
And I’m tired of these dirty old sidewalks.
Think I’ll walk off my steady job today.
I think I can guess which half Merle falls into.
Personality Differences Across Cities
Because some people value the opportunity to live in an interesting place, I expect there is substantial sorting of people across cities. Different types of people will choose different types of cities.
Based on casual observation, it seems that a desire for “interesting-ness” is probably correlated with certain personality traits. For example, a drive to “make it big” seems common among many who flock to these cities. In these cities you might get your big break at a cocktail party, whereas you won’t likely meet a cabinet secretary or Hollywood producer in the most-livable Pittsburgh.
Yet, the big cities also tend to have high levels of inequality. Being extremely successful is far from guaranteed. For every movie star in LA there are 25 waiters scrapping by to pay the high rents.
Not surprisingly, the chance of “making it big” is highly alluring to some people. Let’s call them “gamblers.” The gamblers will go to NY or DC or LA when they are young to try and make it. A few will, but many will end up living less-than-glamorous lives making less-than-glamorous pay. The other type of person, a non-gambler, will choose a different city where housing is cheap. This person has little chance of ever making it big, but will probably be comfortable.
For this reason, it is not surprising that the big cities are often described as obsessed with money. Many people who choose to move there have a certain personality type and this further reinforces the city’s culture. Of course, nice people live in these cities too!
Someone really should look at personality differences across types of cities. I’d like to know how “desire to live an interesting life” is correlated with risk taking too.