Life in a Northern Town

Matthew Yglesias makes a point about U.S. cities that just hurts (“SoCal Tragedy,” TheAtlantic.com, 7 May 2008):

The thing you really forget about the deplorable land use and development patterns in southern California (and the Soutwest more generally) until you come back out here is how goddamn nice the weather is, a fact that takes the situation out of the realm of farce and into tragedy. You know what a good place to never walk anywhere would be? Boston or Chicago in the winter. Or maybe DC or New York in the summer. That’s some nasty weather to be walking around in.

But LA would be a great place to walk or ride a bike to work all year ’round. But it’s our bad weather belt that has the walkable cities, and our sunny and temperate all the time region that barely has sidewalks.

I have lived more or less my adult life in the Northwest, Seattle, briefly New York and for the last five years, Washington, D.C. I often consider the possibility of moving someplace nice. S., who doesn’t desist in sweater wearing until the temperature hits about 80 degrees, does so more often than me. But as soon as you start considering someplace nicer, you run into this impenetrable wall that everyplace in the sunbelt sucks. I’m not about to live in the old South or Texas for cultural reasons. Miami is physically very beautiful and almost serviceable from the standpoint of urbanism, but is one of the U.S. capitols of superficiality. And the entire Southwest is a wasteland of suburban environmental destruction.

How did this come about that the nicest parts of the country have nothing by way of great, people-friendly cities?

And then I think, even if Los Angeles were physically nice, would you really want to live there? I’m somewhat prone to those theories of cultural determinism based upon the temperate bands of the earth. The sun imposes a certain physicality which is why Los Angeles and Miami are the twin boob job capitols of the country and why, for all its avowed prudery, the old South is a hotbed of sexuality run amok (the counter-argument here is the ancient Mediterranean: both sunny and intellectually vibrant). I have somewhat just resigned myself to being a hunkered-down, rained upon northerner.

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