September 28, 2019

We’re still trying to work out what it is that separates the feeling of New York from cities like London, Paris, Chicago, Berlin. The density seems to be part of it. Most European cities have a separate historic centre from commercial centre, and those two are separated again from the densest residential areas. Much of Manhattan feels dense in all three dimensions.

There is something about the quality of the sky, as well, which we can’t quite work out, how it seems to loom so large despite often being blocked out by the height and sides of the buildings. Perhaps this is due to the variance in their heights, that their verticality draws the eyes up, towering as they do over the low-rises. And yet we felt this expansiveness as soon as we landed, before we were amidst the tall buildings.

I think the density and diversity of the populace seems to make a difference too, that people seem to be doing such different types of things, for such different reasons. And yet they co-exist. This diversity of intentions seems to contribute to the sense of anonymity, which is somehow liberating. Though again the overall feeling is not quite one of liberty, but of possibility.

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.