Have you ever visited a city and felt an instantaneous click? Walked off of an airplane or stepped out of your hotel and felt happy, excited, at home?
Is it the architecture, the weather, the croissants, the vibe? Why does one person adore San Francisco while another finds it utterly unappealing? I’ve found myself having conversations like this one on more than one occasion:
Me: So what did you think? Isn’t San Francisco amazing?
Friend: It was okay. Kind of dirty. I didn’t really love it.
Me: (Look of confusion) But what about the water, the hills, the cable cars, the colorful houses, the, the…you know…the vibe?
Friend: (Shrugs) It was just okay. Not my favorite.
Me: (Wonders if friend has been taken over by a San Francisco-hating alien pod.)
Maybe my friend is just not that into cable cars or cardigans or fog. But could there be something else to it? I’ve often wondered why people have such strong attachments and aversions to various cities.
Obviously, taste plays a role–some people simply prefer mountains to oceans and prairies to cities. But urban studies theorist and author Richard Florida believes there’s another factor at play.
He thinks that cities, like people, have distinct personalities.
In his book, “Who’s Your City?” Florida dissects the personality traits that people share with cities and posits that the more similar you are to a city, the likelier you are to be happy there.
Here are the “Big 5” dimensions of personality:
Open to Experience- curious, artistic, creative
Conscientious- disciplined, detail oriented, efficient
Extroverted- gregarious, assertive, enthusiastic
Agreeable- friendly, compassionate, trusting
Neurotic- anxious, hostile, self-conscious
And here is Florida’s corresponding U.S. personality map:
As you can see, it’s not that a city magically has its own personality, but rather that people with particular personality traits cluster in specific areas. The greater the number of people with a particular trait inhabiting a city, the likelier the city is to reflect those traits and continue to attract greater numbers of people with those characteristics. And so it goes…
Over the years, legions of people have taken off for New York City and Paris and London, searching for their “place” in the world. Perhaps it is the fact that so many creative, searching (and slightly neurotic) people also call these cities home that makes them so appealing to those with an adventurous spirit. After all, like attracts like.
My personal experience supports this notion. Vancouver, where I currently live, has always felt more like a so-so friend than a bestie. Using Florida’s personality types as a guide, I can see that Vancouver would score high on Conscientousness and Openness to Experience and low on Agreeableness and Extroversion. My ideal city would (like me) score high on Extroversion, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness. Unfortunately, that place might not look like this:
Of course, all kinds of things get in the way of finding and inhabiting your ideal city: work, love, money, family. We don’t always get to choose. But if you’re just starting out or thinking about a big change, it might be worth examining whether your current or potential city is a good fit, personality wise.
And if you can’t uproot your life, maybe you can figure out where your personal travel nirvana lies. Is it in neurotic, open New York? Extroverted, agreeable Chicago? Or Paris? Because, agreeable or not, Paris is always a good idea.
Who’s your city?
P.S. You can check out Richard Florida’s cool interactive website here and play around with cities and statistics to find the spot that’s right for you.