Maybe you guys can identify with me. There is one city so close to my heart.
It’s personal; I did my best growing there. After I did my growing, it spit me out into the world. I moved on, and realized I carried a secret. Pittsburgh, you guys. Pittsburgh is a really awesome place. It’s beautiful. It’s pleasant. It’s polite. It’s artistic. It’s altruistic. It’s passionate. It’s clean. These are some words that, once you are out in the world, you realize aren’t associated with Pittsburgh.
That is why I will almost certainly and with enthusiasm click any link in my very loud Twitter feed purporting to be a Pittsburgh profile piece. It’s exciting for me to read about another’s experience there, to vicariously visit my old friend, and always I take delight in the moment the writer finds the surprise in that yes, Pittsburgh not only has a great personality but a pretty face too.
This week I was halfway through such a travel piece, and with my mouse poised to re-tweet, I saw it. The most dreaded travel writing cliché. This writer, and I shall not sell him out, wrote the following sentence:
Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods.
I see this phrase used everywhere. Heck, the New York Times used it to describe in which I currently live. My point is: what city ISN’T a city of neighborhoods? I dare you to name me one. But somehow, this phrase has become the go-to to describe any vibrant city that has more going for it than just one signature focal point (which is, and I repeat: all cities). All cities have neighborhoods. Neighborhoods evolve. They gentrify. Some are still defined by the groups of people who settled it first. Some form much later than a city’s establishment, development rising from dirt. It’s true, cities forge their identities through their neighborhoods. But to say a city is a city of neighborhoods is a little redundant.
Can you imagine reading music reviews that say “This is an album of songs”? Restaurant profiles claiming to have “menus full of dishes” and “dishes full of tastes”? It’s a hotel of rooms. It’s a book of chapters. We live in a solar system of planets. A planet of countries. A country of cities. A city of neighborhoods. I assure you, it’s not a novel observation.
Neighborhoods tell a city’s story. The story isn’t that they are there. Tell us the story, travel writers.
Sincerely, a reader.