Our favorite quotes about cities, and what they have to do with Pennsylvania

     Cyclists and pedestrians cross the street in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/Newsworks)

    Cyclists and pedestrians cross the street in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/Newsworks)

    At Keystone Crossroads, we write a lot of practical stories on urban design, policy and politics. But today we’re indulging our literary side.

    We’ve compiled quotes that remind us of cities in Pennsylvania, and make us think about the big picture.

    The quotes

    “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.”—Stephen Wright, comedian

    Come to think of it, MIT is looking for new ways to consider pedestrians in urban design. That might make the whole walking thing a little easier.

    And in case you were hoping to get some buzzwords thrown your way: smart growth and tactical urbanism are two approaches that favor walkability.

    “The city’s full of people who you just see around.”—Terry Pratchett, “Men at Arms

    Ah, the chance encounter! The promise of a “meet cute,” where you’re walking your dog, and so is your future romantic partner, and the dogs greet each other and the leashes get tangled up and you and a stranger end up nose to nose…and then fall in love.

    Well, even if that’s a fantasy, one group in Philadelphia is trying to foster more chance encounters.

    Along the same lines…

    “Anyone who predicts the death of cities has already met his spouse.”—Clay Shirky, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations”

    If this study is to be believed, Lancaster might be a good place for the people who haven’t met theirs.

    And while we’re on the topic, we thought this quote was just beautiful:

    “Love and cities are always inextricably entwined. There’s no restaurant or corner store or run-down dive in any city that doesn’t double as a monument for a lost love. I think that’s why we always stop and stare whenever we come across a girl crying in public. We sense the imprint of a memory being pressed onto the sidewalk, onto the building contours, onto the names of the streets.”―Jay Caspian Kang, “The Dead Do Not Improve”

    What’s that saying…make love, not war? This essayist was surprised there’s not more of the latter in our cities: 

    “Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out everyday: Massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without hating each other to death?”―E.M. Cioran, “History of Utopia”

    Riots, maybe not. But elected officials in distressed cities like Reading have some toxic relationships. Reading is at the center of a federal investigation over corruption.

    Maybe corruption is inherent in cities.

    “Cities produce ferocious men because they produce corrupt men; the mountains, the forest, and the sea render men savage; they develop the fierce, but yet do not destroy the human.”―Victor Hugo, “Les Misérables”

    John Updike, author of Rabbit Run, grew up in Reading. Here’s a quote of his about cities from a different novel.

    “But cities aren’t like people; they live on and on, even though their reason for being where they are has gone downriver and out to sea.”―John Updike, “Trust Me”

    Yep. We see cities like this all over Pennsylvania, the ones that have lost their industries and consequently, their purpose.

    But there might be a silver lining: the opportunity for reinvention. By the way, this quote starts with the opposite of Updike’s premise, saying that cities are like people.

    “A city isn’t so unlike a person. They both have the marks to show they have many stories to tell. They see many faces. They tear things down and make new again.”―Rasmenia Massoud, “Broken Abroad”

    It’s easy to get frustrated when someone doesn’t understand just how great your city used to be. The next author gets that.

    “We are all proprietary toward cities we love. ‘Ah, you should have seen her when I loved her!’ we say, reciting glories since faded or defiled, trusting her to no one else; that others should know and love her in her present fallen state (for she must fall without our vigilant love) is a species of betrayal.”―Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Italian Days”

    But these cities have a chance to turn themselves around, right? It depends on what kind of city, according to Jane Jacobs, who was born in Scranton and had a huge influence on urban planning during the 20th century and beyond.

    “Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”―Jane Jacobs, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”

    There we go. Solutions. Some people say cities, themselves, are a solution.

    “Cities are never random. No matter how chaotic they might seem, everything about them grows out of a need to solve a problem. In fact, a city is nothing more than a solution to a problem, that in turn creates more problems that need more solutions, until towers rise, roads widen, bridges are built, and millions of people are caught up in a mad race to feed the problem-solving, problem-creating frenzy.”―Neal Shusterman, “Downsiders”

    If you’re looking for solutions, have you seen our “ideas worth stealing” series?

    In case you ever get down because your city isn’t New York or LA, think of this quote:

    “Detroit is big enough to matter in the world but small enough for you to matter in it.”―Jeanette Pierce, executive director at Detroit Experience Factory

    We could say the same about Pennsylvania cities.

    Finally, we’ll end on a poetic note.

    “You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”―Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities”

    What questions does your city answer? Have any quotes about cities that you love?

    Share them in the comments section, on Twitter @pacrossroads or on Facebook.

    We got these quotes from a few different places, but digging through goodreads.com was especially helpful.

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