What makes a city liveable?

November 26, 2013 in Life,Philosophy

I’ve often heard people say that as much as they love visiting New York City, they’d never want to live there. And whenever people mention visiting Sacramento, I always say it’s not a great place for a vacation, but it’s a fantastic place to live.

During my weekend at home in Sacramento, a lot of people asked me how much longer I was planning to live in New York City or if I would ever move back to Sacramento. I also did a lot of back-and-forth comparing: the thrill of driving with the windows down and radio up versus tuning out and reading my Kindle on the subway, the wide open spaces versus the delightful sidewalk chaos, the complete suburban silence at night versus the reassuring buzz of the BQE outside my window.

There are a lot of things I love about living in New York City: the ease of public transportation, the incredible concentration of talented and interesting people, the hub of fashion and media industries, the fact that on a Friday night I can go to a magic show or a brand-new restaurant or to a world-class ballet or on a cruise to the Statue of Liberty. The high cost of living and the non-stop pressure to hustle and succeed can be daunting, but it’s something that you accept as soon as you decide to move here.

When I was home, I remembered a lot of things that I loved about growing up in Sacramento. Tomatoes growing in the backyard, reading magazines by the pool (in late September!), being able to regularly put money in savings. It’s not exactly a hub of international culture, but it’s the most diverse city in America and it has some of the most authentic Mexican and Vietnamese food I’ve found this side of the border.

Of course, I also spent a year in Melbourne—regularly deemed the world’s most liveable city. In many ways, it has what I love most about both New York and Sacramento: world-class restaurants and culture and industry, but with an (semi) efficient tram network, sense of community and easy access to beaches, parks, mountain ranges and wide open spaces.

I’ve lived in Nice, studied in Paris, spent considerable amounts of time scattered around Europe and Southeast Asia. I’ve daydreamed of enjoying the benefits of living in Scandinavia (widely recognized as not only the happiest cultures but also the best places for women to succeed in both work and family) or setting up shop on the beaches of Thailand or get certified to teach yoga in Bali.

Every city has its ups and downs, the things that endear it to its visitors and drive its residents crazy. And, of course, there are cities that appeal to us at different stages of our life.

What makes a city liveable for you?

  • I think we make our cities liveable. I could very well do without the are you staying in (insert city here) forever or are you ever coming back to (insert hometown here) questions though :)

  • I think the biggest thing for me is that I have to love the city. There are always going to be good aspects of a city and not so good aspects. But if you love it enough you will be willing to put up with the less than great aspects of it. Other than the love though, I find cities that have motion, energy, lots of coffee shops, and good public transportation to be livable. It also depends on the vibe of the city. That has to mesh well with me. I think it is really a lot of different factors, but you know when a city fits the bill. You just tend to feel it.

  • Karisa Blake

    I think Philadelphia is one of the most livable cities I’ve encountered. It’s walkable, easy to navigate as it’s set on a grid, full of history and public art and it has a fantastic food and microbrew scene. It’s big but not too big and it’s close to other great cities like New York, Boston and DC. Also: cheesesteaks!

  • Sam

    I love reading your posts on NYC, because your thoughts sum up how I feel about London. I grew up about an hour away from London, in a quiet little village, and moved to the city when I graduated from university. Spending my early 20s in such an exciting and iconic place has been nothing short of amazing. I love the buzz and energy of the city, and I’ve got everything I could ever want on my doorstep. And yet, when I see my friends in other parts of the country living in lovely big houses for half the amount I pay for a small room in a grotty flat, I can’t help but think life in London just isn’t sustainable. I’m not quite ready to give it all up yet, but I do think the time will come eventually.

  • Audrey

    I think for me a city becomes liveable when you establish a circle of friends. When you have people that you can laugh and connect with, then it doesn’t matter if the city isn’t all that glamorous. :)

  • Shaz Lake

    I think a city is most liveable for me when you can actually *live* in it. I live in Vancouver at the moment which is rated in the top 3 most livable cities, but to me it falls a bit short of the mark. I love much of what the city has to offer, however the economy is terrible and the job market slim. You need to have money to go snowboarding on the weekends and take excursions to the island and enjoy much of what it has to offer, but with such high prices it becomes a vicious cycle of working to live. It’s unfortunate, but I guess that’s why so many travelers flee to developing countries. Living to ‘just get by’ is no way to live in my opinion.

  • camorose

    AMEN.

  • camorose

    So true!

  • camorose

    Yes! My mom is originally from Philly and I totally fell in love with it when I visited last summer–so much history and such good food!

  • camorose

    Perhaps one day :)

  • camorose

    Good point! The community I’ve established here is definitely one of the main reasons I’ve really connected to NYC :)

  • Jennifer Snyder

    To me, the concept of a livable city depends on your personal wants and needs. I’ve been reading a lot about people who live in vans/buses/RVs. They seem to be able to pull into a city or town and make themselves right at home — no matter where they are. While that wouldn’t work for everyone (I agree with some of the other comments about community — I tend to need that), it’s interesting to see what the term “livable” means to different folks. Great post, Christine!

  • The key is to match your current life circumstances to the right city. New York? Yes while I’m young and single. Paris (where I live now) while I’m in love and honeymoony. A quieter village when kids come along.

  • camorose

    That’s very true! I’m learning more and more what works for me–great public transportation, easy access to restaurants and museums, but still of plenty of green spaces and proximity to water!

  • camorose

    That’s a great point; however, I don’t think I’ll ever want to be in a village or suburbs, even with kids! I grew up in the suburbs and I’ve always envied city life :)

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