Pleasure and Pizzazz Come in Cities of All Sizes

I love big cities—no matter what size they are.

Urbaneness is not measured just by population and square mileage.  The “big” in big city refers to the exhilarating sense that life is flowering all around us in countless varieties.

We can all name a couple of million-plus towns that fall woefully short in pleasure and pizzazz; places that fit novelist Gertrude Stein’s brilliantly barbed phrase about her hometown of Oakland: There’s no there there. (Although Oakland and the East Bay have enlivened themselves considerably in recent years, showing that no place can be eternally condemned as dull.)

Meanwhile some of the most sophisticated, energetic, enjoyable spots I know (and which I visit as frequently as time and money allow)don’t top 275,000 in a head count.  Madison, Wisconsin. Freiburg, Germany. Charleston, South Carolina. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Ithaca, New York. Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Boulder, Colorado.

And others are teenier that that.  Iowa City (62,000). Burlington, Vermont (38,000). Lansing, Iowa (1012). Lanesboro, Minnesota (788). Bayfield, Wisconsin (611).  But these towns all fill me with a sense of wonder as I stroll the streets, poke into the shops, and watch the people.  Most I’ve gotten to know simply through proximity and the patterns of my own travels, so I’m sure you have your own favorites.