I’m an urbanite at heart. I’m not originally “from” a city background, having done my early growing-up in a small town right on the doorstep of the Lakes, but I spent most of the latter part of my childhood in Manchester, and have been shuttling back and forth between city and countryside ever since. As such, I’ve had roughly equal experience of both environments, and cities have always been where I prefer to be.
Now it’s not that I lack appreciation for the countryside; far from it. Growing up in Westmorland with a mother who loves the Lakeland fells, I acquired from an early age a love of natural landscapes in general, and mountains in particular, which remains strong to this day. However, I find that I appreciate those things all the more when I’m not living there 24/7 and taking it for granted.
Anyway, as a place to spend day-to-day life, cities win every time. Even after years of having lived in one, I still get a kick out of it – being surrounded by so many people, and knowing that this is where all the biggest events in the area take place – the place that people from smaller towns head to when the stuff they want isn’t available at home. This is where it’s at.
Plus there’s all the obvious stuff, like better public transport, wider range of amenities, later hours – all the natural consequences of a large population centre.
What I want to talk about here is the “unfriendliness” of which cities are so often accused. You know the usual complaints: everyone rushes around in a hurry, nobody ever makes eye contact on the train, all that kind of thing?
The thing is, I consider that stuff to be an advantage.
I’m not trying to make myself out to be a loner here, honest; I may like a good bit of solitude now and then, but I also like having friends as much as anyone else, and friendly communities can be very enjoyable to be a part of. The only problem is when it starts to feel like everyone is an acquaintance. I first started to notice this when I first lived on my own in a small town. I would see the same people in the same places every day, and like it or not, whether or not I knew their names, they were all acquaintances on some level. And, worse still, I was (and still am) hopeless at recognising faces, which meant – oh no! – if I recognised them, there was a pretty good chance they remembered me too!
OK, so I know that sounds a bit weird, and you’re probably thinking that I need my head looked at. But for a self-conscious person that values privacy as highly as I do, I don’t mind admitting that it kind of freaks me out.
I still have the basic human desire to be around other people; I don’t want to hide away like some kind of hermit. I just like having the option to interact with people, and also to choose when, where and with whom to surrender my precious anonymity.
And cities, of course, have anonymity in spades. It’s amazingly liberating to blend into a crowd of thousands, within a city of millions, deriving comfort (and, perhaps paradoxically, self-confidence) from the knowledge that nobody cares who I am, and none of them would ever look twice at me.
Might sound odd to some, but I really wouldn’t like to live without it.