Holidays With Crys – Two Kinds of Big Cities

When I came back from Berlin, everyone asked me about it, and I couldn’t shut up prattling on about how much I loved it. There is just too much cool all wrapped up in that city, and yet at the same time it is very green, and has very little chaos as far as big cities go. While I know that some people don’t like big cities in general, and therefore unsurprisingly don’t feel that they could live there, I was surprised to find that some of my other friends who are very metropolitan people also didn’t care much for Berlin. After some discussion, I realized the discrepancy, and why Berlin snatched my heart the same way that Rome did, but that Milan never could.

There are really two kinds of big cities. The posh kind, and the urban kind*.


*for the American readers amongst you, it has recently come to my attention that “urban” has now become a weird synonym for “black” there. Please note that this is not the way I am using this word at all. My use of the word has nothing to do with race, but rather it is the only word in the English language that I find comparable to the Italian word popolare. When I use it, I mean it as it’s original meaning, and I am disregarding the new strangely racist meaning that has been pinned to it.


The posh city category pertains to cities in which the real allure, the things that make the city special, are only accessible with a healthy amount of cash. This could be because the good food is only found in the expensive restaurants, or because it is famous for high-end fashion, or high-end shopping. Basically the real party is attended by people in fancy dresses. The upside to posh cities is that they tend to be cleaner, more presentable, and all-around more tame. The downside is that, if you do not have the cash to access the good parts of the city (or you simply dislike that vibe), the cheaper neighborhoods tend to be kind of sad. Milan is a classic example of a posh city.

The urban city category pertains to cities in which their fame and fortune resides in the places inhabited by average people, rather than the upper echelons of society. They are the kinds of cities that are famous for street art, starving artists, the best parties are in abandoned buildings and the food in your local taverns rocks the big one. The downside to these cities is that they tend to be dirtier, covered in graffiti, and the poshier neighborhoods and events can seem almost provincial when compared to those of actual posh cities. Rome is a classic example of an urban city. New York, specifically Manhattan, is a classic example of a place that transitioned from urban to posh.

Which you prefer is all a matter of taste, and I am not going to say that one is better than the other. If I told you you had to prefer the posh cities, because duh they’re better, that would make me a snob. If I told you you had to prefer the urban cities, because OMG they’re just objectively cooler, that would make me a hipster. I can only say that, personally, I am the urban city type all the way. The graffiti in Kreuzberg didn’t bother me, nor did the occasional empty lot I passed, if anything it made the city feel more real, more lived in. I vote Rome, over Milan. I vote Berlin, Barcellona and the old Manhattan. That’s my personality, and of course not everyone sees it that way.

But I am curious, what kind of big city person are you?


  1. Siobhan says

    If I told you you had to prefer the urban cities, because OMG they’re just objectively cooler, that would make me a hipster.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing! #hipsterpride

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Urban every time. London seems to be well advanced on its way from being urban to being posh. There’ve always been posh bits, obviously (hard not to have that with Buckingham Palace in the middle of it), but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to live, not merely in the city, but even anywhere usefully near it, unless you’re making several times the national average wage.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I agree with that assessment of London. Of course almost all big cities have posh bits, but the question is whether or not those posh bits represent the height of what the city has to offer. I used Manhattan as an example instead of London simply because I think it has undergone a more complete gentrification process, but the last few times I went to London I could see that it was heading in the exact same direction, and is almost there. For people like me, that’s a shame, but not everyone shares my disappointment.

  3. malefue says

    Berlin has had a “leg up” on coolness, mainly because it was almost completely destroyed in WWII, which thinned the city out, architecture-wise. That’s why it feels so eerily new and non-medieval for a city that’s existed for a thousand years.
    Then after the war it was separated by a huge demarkation line, which also freed up a lot of space when it vanished. Those are big factors why living costs are very low compared to other european metropolis. (metropoles? idk)
    But don’t despair, dear developers (*spit*), luxury housing is on the rise there as everywhere.

    Another city I love (and lived in) that has the same feel of urbanity (?) is Vienna, where the municipal government has struck on of the best balances between capitalist realities (*spit*) and normal people’s welfare anywhere in the world IMHO. But that’s a Social Democrat-Green administration for you.

    I’m not sure if there was point in there, but I just wanted to echo your feelings on Berlin and urban vs. posh cities. Couldn’t agree more.

  4. Turi says

    @4 Yes, Berlin is getting more posh. But the city is fighting it, some times by questionable methods. For example there is now a law forbidding turning rented flats into high profit tourist flats. So far so good.
    But because it is hard to enforce a law like that, the city is encouraging neighbors to spy on each other and report violations anonymously. That is really bad, because it breeds distrust.

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