Cities and ambition

Talking to Martijn today, about his recent trip to the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, and how the entire culture there is different, (especially but not only in terms of entrepreneurship), I remembered an essay by Paul Graham on the messages of cities. Every city sends a different messages to its citizens, and attracts different kinds of people. Here’s an extract, and a link to the whole article. A great read! I don’t know know when it started, but more and more, I have the desire to go to San Francisco. It feels like THE place where interesting things happen in terms of design and technology. I have that image in my head, that everything is so fucking cool there, and there are more people like me, and people who are even more in the way that I’d like to be. I must go.

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more: yo should try harder.

The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you’ve been meaning to.

When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers. As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful.

That’s not quite the same message New York sends. Power matters in New York too of course, but New York is pretty impressed by a billion dollars even if you merely inherited it. In Silicon Valley no one would care except a few real estate agents. What matters in Silicon Valley is how much effect you have on the world. The reason people there care about Larry and Sergey is not their wealth but the fact that they control Google, which affects practically everyone.

Full article: http://www.paulgraham.com/cities.html

Tal Benisty

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