Why Do We Live Where We Live?

mind the gap

Growing up, I always felt trapped by my surroundings.  Why had my parents chosen to raise me in the dry, geriatric filled desert of Tucson, Arizona instead of Paris, where I would’ve learned charmingly French traits like bike riding with a baguette or tying a scarf in several hundred different ways?  Why had my dad moved us to the agricultural hub of California, rather than Manhattan, where I would’ve become street-wise and savvy, ready to take on the world with my fast-talking charm and quick wit? As I’ve come to a point in my life where I get to personally choose where I live, I place a high premium on the cities that drew me as a child.  I’ve now lived in Berlin, San Francisco, and New York, with my recent move to London adding to my tour of world cultural hubs.  I spend four times as much on rent than my father does.  I’ve become used to taking over an hour to get from one place to another, walking a block, hopping on two buses and subwaying to meet a friend out.  I have not, since I left my parent’s house, had a backyard to call my own.  I compete constantly:  for jobs, amongst the best and brightest from across the country and world; for seats on public transportation and in restaurants; for space on the sidewalk; for tickets, for roommates, for a drink at a bar.

After we’d been in London for two weeks, my boyfriend Zack seemed agitated.  We were grabbing dinner after spending the day working from home.  “What’s wrong?”  I asked.

“Nothing,” he said.  “It’s just---this is the exact same day we would’ve had in New York.  We woke up, ate the same thing as there, worked in the same way for the same amount of time, are eating dinner at a different version of the same restaurant.”

As he spoke, I realized how much I’d expected my life to feel somehow different in London, as I had when I moved to New York from San Francisco years before.  I tried to put my finger on what, exactly, I expected the change to be:  my lifestyle would be the same (same job, same boyfriend).  The streets I walked would be different but they would lead to the same types of places---the grungy bar I like to spend my Friday nights, the cheery, rickety-tabled brunch spots of my Sunday mornings.  Yet, I needed the change of place to have a palpable, tangible effect on my life.  Otherwise, what was all of the effort and time spent living in the cities of my choosing for?

I asked Zack why he thought New York was, well, New York.  If it simply was the same bars, the same restaurants, the same jobs and (much crappier) apartments, why did people from everywhere want to be there?

“I think,” he said, “it’s because everyone wants to be there. No one accidentally just ends up living in New York. Everyone is there by choice.  Everyone in New York, then, is there for a reason.  There aren’t many other places in the world you can say that about.”

“So the people create the place that creates the people,” I said.

He smiled and took a sip of his beer.  “Something like that.”

Taken that way, I think the childhood me wanted to be the kind of person she saw living in the big cities of the world.  She wanted me to be somewhere by choice, somewhere for a reason.  If I can’t supply any other reason as to why I’m here, the simple fact that I want to be is, for her, enough.

How much do you think place affects your daily lifestyle?  Do you think the New York, big city idea of everyone being there for a reason is true for more rural or suburban areas as well?  Are you choosing to be where you live, or are you there for other reasons?