On Pride

Mike Lydon's picture

Cities are sized-up, measured and analyzed in countless ways. The Economist uses statistics to indicate how New York's financial sector is faring against its London counterpart. Richard Florida measures the extant of the creative class. Allan Jacobs carefully records intersection densities and Jan Gehl simply counts pedestrians. Some, like Peter Calthorpe, go beyond the city line and take stock of the whole region.

Calculating all of the above certainly yields an understanding of urban complexities, but the more abstract element of pride is interesting as well. All great cities have pride. Pride may be defined as urban denizens recognizing and expressing a connection to each other and their city. It might also include how residents favorably compare themselves and their city to others. In other words, pride is identity. It engenders a bit of swagger and for residents and visitors alike, it can be seen, felt or heard. When genuine, pride is very marketable.

Pride is typically derived from a common element, which like good urbanism, is specific to the unique quality of place. Sometimes it is manifested in something conspicuous, like Millennium Park in Chicago, although often it is not so tangible, like the can-do underdog spirit reclaiming small swaths of ever-maligned Detroit.

An exemplar case is Boston. Win or lose, the city's maniacal love affair with the Red Sox, (and sports in general) lock people of all persuasions into a running discussion for much of the year. In fact, besides the ever-changing weathah' it's the one thing cab drivers from East Boston and high-powered bankers from Weston can bandy over. Thus, the Red Sox define an unspoken camaraderie amongst residents, which is manifested in the display of pride and what it means to be from Boston.


Austin's SOCO district is a homegrown source of pride.


City pride is also readily on display in Austin, Texas. Though less concrete than a sports team, the good people of this "batty" city willfully fashion themselves as a blue dot in a red state. Indeed, a bumper sticker slogan readily reminds citizens to "Keep Austin Weird." This catchphrase has become a rallying cry of sorts and a self-fulfilling prophecy locals love to perpetuate. Spend a few days there and one realizes there is a lot of pride wrapped up in Austin's unique indie culture, cuisine and political leanings. It's what makes Austin, Austin.

Pride is often maximized in a time of crisis. It kept New Orleans singing after the floods and encouraged New Yorkers, if not the world, to make New York City post-9/11 better than ever before. Are there two better American cities?

As The Economist would note, pride also invokes healthy competition in everything from financial markets to futbol. Barcelona and Madrid constantly vie for Spanish supremacy, and as a result push each other to new heights in other Euro-centric and increasingly global realms.

Pride can be inherent. Parisans have tremendous reverence for their history, dialect, city and local culture. If you've been chastised for not speaking "zee French" while visiting, you know what I mean. However, you will also understand that from Montmarte to Montparnasse being unapologetically Parisian is what prevents the city from becoming a museum.

As a final example, a thriving institution can embody city pride as well. The small city of Ann Arbor, for example, maintains an incredible symbotic relationship with the University of Michigan and all of its wonderful attributes. The duality of city and university offer a cultural oasis in a desert of cornfields, which creates a unique cohesion among residents, students and alumni. Though they tend to spread out around the world, this community can always reconnect with the Ace Deuce when hearing ‘Hail, Hail, to Michigan, the leaders and the best!'

Here in Miami, an extremely diverse and transient city, there is very little pride exhibited. It's a fragmented metropolis with little recognition of its own history or an operable central core in which people connect. In short, there is no sense of civitas. Yet, if one peers below the surface, pockets of cohesion and community pride do exist. Little Havana, the city's burgeoning upper-east side neighborhood and Coconut Grove are good examples. However, there is some magic missing in the "Magic City."

Clearly, there is a given social contract within cities that people must embrace, adopt or reject. Not all Bostonians follow the Red Sox with fervor, nor does every Michigan alumn look back on their days in Ann Arbor with misty eyes. Nonetheless, pride is a building block to greatness that cities accrue organically, and if smart, cultivate deliberately.



Mike Lydon is Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015).


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