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C200: Why Cities Matter

2011 March 29
by Sally Clark

I do careful, sometimes nightly, research into the question of why cities matter. Edward Glaeser’s recent work stokes our discussions about what makes cities tick, and Jane Jacobs remains the grand dame of urban advocacy. However, there are other crucial works to consult in our quest to understand the ecosystems of cities. Through our study of these texts (preferably with popcorn and M&M’s) we can better understand human advancement through denser living as our planet becomes more populated and more economically complex.

  • West Side Story. Cities are where the Jets meet the Sharks. Genre defining choreography and music ensue.
  • Annie Hall. Cities are where the rules of modern dating develop. Cities become magnets for socially awkward geeks. Urban clothing fashion co-stars.
  • Do the Right Thing. Cities as places where our best and worst selves come out as we meet, rely on, and push away people of different races and beliefs.
  • Philadelphia. Cities as the relatively safer place at the time to talk about AIDS, homophobia, and fear of nearness.
  • Midnight Cowboy. Cities as the place people go to find financial success. A cry for diversity in city economies so living wage jobs are available beyond “gigolo.”
  • Singles. Cities are where the rules of modern dating develop. Cities become greater magnets for self-involved music geeks. Urban clothing fashion co-stars.
  • Vertigo. Cities as places of great apartments, busy sidewalks, museums and parks. Yes, there’s a murder, but that can happen anywhere.

The stories we tell about cities matter as much as any land use or transit policy when it comes to affecting our individual and collective living decisions. Few wish to live in the city of Blade Runner, but that’s not the way the story has to end.


Sally J. Clark serves on the Seattle City Council. She chairs the Committee on the Built
Environment and likes to go to the movies.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Patrick permalink
    March 29, 2011

    “Few wish to live in the city of Blade Runner” – the sign code revisions were already tabled. Why do you have to kick us when we’re down?

  2. Wells permalink
    March 29, 2011

    Portlanders may watch dollars fly into developments downtown and inner-city districts, but their long-term goal is balanced development between downtown and suburban communities. Ultimately, more dollars should go to suburbia than downtown. Suburbanites live in communities that do not meet their needs and resort to long-distance commuting. Portland’s light rail lines can’t meet their potential if they’re packed during rush hours headed downtown but empty the other direction and off-rush hours. Extend Link south to some destination (the community college?) that’s more important than another parking garage. Seatac is a nowhere place one goes when one is going somewhere else. It still amazes me that Seattlers just don’t get it.

  3. christian permalink
    March 29, 2011

    sally, you forgot a landmark urban (and seattle centric!!) film: before “singles”, “say anything” brought pre-grunge music geekdom (“joe lies/ when he cries”), gratuitous b-roll of seattle’s urban and natural landscape, and iconic but now-anachronistic urban teen angst (a modern lloyd dobler holding an i-pod over his head blaring peter gabriel?) to the screen. city dwelling white kids finding their way in the world has never found a more pure representation.

  4. Sophia Katt permalink
    March 29, 2011

    Don’t forget “Sleepless in Seattle”, which teaches us that learning about life from popular films leaves us geographically challenged. It does not take one only two minutes to row from one’s Lake Union houseboat to Alki Beach.

  5. Danimal permalink
    March 30, 2011

    and Sally totally forgot the 1998 Mathew Broderick hit “Godzilla” that shows a giant lizard can evade the United States military for days-on-end in the protective confines of a city. Cities really are the safe haven for all.

  6. April 3, 2011

    How about Tombstone? Sure the cities were really small, but people went there just because there were other people there. Really beats living in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around.

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