“Oh no, I couldn’t live in Manhattan,” I would reply. “I mean, I love to visit the city – but it’s just too big and hectic for me…”
Despite my idyllic upbringing in a rural Fife coastal fishing village (playing on the shoreline at the bottom of our garden, chasing each other on bikes down the middle of our street, etc) it soon became clear that I loved city life. Edinburgh and Philadelphia captured my heart. Basel I left knowing it was too small for me to fully appreciate.
Yet it appeared that a city could be Too Big To Inhabit. NYC awed me, but the fact that it took me a whole day to walk across the “central area” I thought counted against it.
It was living in London for 3 months that caused my opinion to shift in favour of Mega Cities. London was sprawling; it was a Jackson Pollock of multiculturalism; the Underground was a tentacled monster. It would take me a week to traverse the city centre on foot! And yet it did not overwhelm me. I was energized when I pedaled across Battersea Bridge at night and watched the sunset over the Thames. The city had absolutely everything I could possibly want: shops, facilities, moods. It operated on a scale far larger than anything I had come across before.
In contrast, a city like Edinburgh (or even Philly) is not that diverse in its population. There are some activities, shops or eateries you will have to leave its boundaries to find. It’s small enough to appear manageable. It’s small enough to make you feel as if you can know the majority of it.
For the first 10 days I that I was in the United States I had a bed in a New York City (Queens District) hostel and I commuted into New Jersey for grad school, because my on-campus housing was not yet ready. If you’re going to experience culture shock at American life, then Manhattan is the place it will happen. Broiling subway, roaring freeways, punchy skylines, harried commuters. The city has no ‘down-time’.
Despite that. I’m most fond of the Lower Manhattan part of the city. Below Times Square and Central Park is the hip, acronym-ed districts of NOHO, SOHO, TRIBECA. It’s a good place to wander down sidestreets away from the traffic frenzy, a place to take your time in. I spent most of my Sunday in Starbucks (once a Coffeeshop Hobo, always a Cofffeeshop Hobo), enjoying the opportunity to people-watch and write.
The secret to Mega City Life is to accept the craziness and speed…but not to let it wind you up. Stand to the side and let others sprint up the escalators. Watch all the yellow taxis from inside your Starbucks haunt. Soak up the energy.