Cambridge, Cities, Personality

by Darius Kazemi on May 28, 2008

in boston,psychogeography

Paul Graham just posted a fantastic essay about the messages cities send. And I’m not saying it’s fantastic just because he gives reasons why Cambridge, MA is the intellectual capital of the world. The essay is about psychogeography and also the personalities of individual cities. This has been a hobby of mine for a long time.

And Graham is right on when he talks about the accidental ways you learn the personality of a city. Overheard conversations, peeking into livings rooms at dusk through people’s windows–these are two methods he mentions are both are excellent ways of catching a city off-guard, so to speak.

My one criticism of Graham’s essay is that in every city he mentions, he’s focusing on a specific subset of educated, at least middle-class people. He is not at all addressing what the city says to its poor, its second-class citizens. Yes, the message Cambridge sends is “You should be smarter.” But is that the message it sends its homeless? Its immigrants working two or three jobs? Or hell, the townies?

But this ties in to my message to students who want to break into the game industry: move to a city where the game industry is thriving. Then do your job hunt. (Tom Sloper gives this advice, too.) And may I humbly submit that Boston, and Cambridge right next door, is a great place to move for that sort of thing? In Central Square alone we have Demiurge Studios, Harmonix, GamerDNA, and of course my company Orbus Gameworks.


mik3cap May 28, 2008 at 4:50 pm

I really like this essay too, and I feel a lot of the things he’s talking about with regard to New York and Cambridge. But by the same token I feel like distilling a city down to one overarching element does a disservice somehow. It’s like taking stereotyping to a macro level.

There’s so much going on in New York, I feel like it’s unfair to focus only on Finance. Fashion is really huge here, and I see how that relates to “hipness”, but the overall cultural capital here is humongous. The collection of artistry and talent in terms of performers and creators shouldn’t be overlooked; I’ve personally felt the pressure to dress and look better upon moving here, but I’ve also felt the vibrancy and inspiration of the artistic community too. Being surrounded by so many talented people is humbling and clearly does raise ambition.

I have to wonder if I’m actually smart enough to live in a city like Cambridge. I’m smart, but I’m not obsessively or ambitiously focused on becoming smarter and smarter.

Ian Schreiber May 28, 2008 at 6:16 pm

I’m skeptical.

Who had ever heard of Seattle as a major power base for technology, before Microsoft? Who ever thought of Georgia or Texas as a place for game development, ten years ago?

Great places may attract great people, but sometimes a great PERSON attracts great people no matter where they are.

I moved to the middle of Ohio with the expectation that it was the end of my game development career and that I’d have to, I dunno, write enterprise software or work for a bank or something. Instead, I find that there’s a huge demand for teachers here, there’s a surprising amount of local game developers (albeit fragmented), and I’m getting more offers for remote contract work than I know what to do with.

Did I move to Columbus because, as a city, iti was in line with my values? Nah, I moved here because Sharon did. And she moved here because OSU gave her a grad school package that was more compelling than the other places that accepted her. I couldn’t even tell you what Columbus says as a city. I don’t care. I spend more time on the computer dealing with people in other states than I do walking the city streets, anyway.

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