by Vince Lau
A book can be judged by its cover. A restaurant can be ranked by its bathroom. A city can be defined by its streets. That is what I propose to do with the streets of New York City and London. One afternoon walk can reveal so much about a city’s structure.
Finding a crowded street is not hard in New York, which is painted with over eight million faces in multiple watercolors. The diversity that one encounters in a simple stroll down the street makes it easy to believe that over 36% of NYC is foreign born. While turning on the iPod and blasting The Beatles White Album, definitely the best album to listen to in Greenwich Village, we glance upwards at the vintage architecture that dates back to the days of progressive development and heavy immigration. Combine the architecture with famous landmarks we pass by on our walk, and we can infer the richness of NYC’s history. Walking down to the south harbor, we learn about the Statue of Liberty, which draws back to New York’s relation to France. Another global influence is seen on New York’s major attraction, Ellis Island, which became the cultural portal and the “land of opportunity” for immigrants.
London’s streets are slightly less populated than NYC, which holds the #4 position of “most heavily populated metropolitan area,” while London ranks #16. However, London too can be called a cultural mixing pot, serving as home for over 300 nationalities. Streets are not crowded and claustrophobic, thus residence is spacious, decorated, but still located in the heart of business. In fact, lodging costs in London have recently trumped the pricey housing of New York City; comparing $2300/sq ft. to $1900/sq. ft. Despite the ridiculous cost of living, more people are choosing to live in the perpetually cloudy city of London, which Newsweek dubs to be the “coolest city in the world.” A walk in the streets of London, pumping catchy tunes and Paul McCartney’s lyrics through the headphones to my ears, is all the evidence Newsweek needs. It is all too fitting, for The Beatles from London are known world-wide, but not America’s Ramones. The Wimbledon attracts visitors from all around, but the U.S. Open seems smaller and exclusive. Walk along 3rd avenue in downtown Manhattan and spot the flock of migrating English soccer fans that have come to cheer on Manchester United in a small over packed pub. On the same afternoon, a walk down Liverpool St. in London could be life-threatening as a stampede of Manchester die-hards storm towards the behemoth Wembley stadium. Never would there be such a rampage for America’s pastime, baseball, but for the world’s pastime of soccer--the sport that stopped a civil war for a month in Ivory Coast to collectively cheer on the national team—anything is possible. From a short afternoon stroll, two cities are effectively contrasted, from housing costs to sports, but we will give those calf muscles some more work out.
Every city has a Chinatown. No matter how small it is, it has one. Even if it has imaginary borders, there is a Chinatown. Even if the city shelters not a single Asian soul, there will be a Chinatown. London and New York City are far from worrying about that problem. Both cities flaunt high ethnic diversity ratios, in fact, the highest of them all. London has the best Chinatown in the UK and New York holds the title in America. A winner can be clearly determined after walking through both areas, and that is New Yorks famed Chinatown on Canal Street. Chinatown, however, contributes only a small portion to the ethnic makeup. Each of Manhattan’s neighborhoods is massively different, and a healthy stroll will reveal why. Through the neighborhoods, architecture will change, from Chinatown to Little Italy to Midtown to Greenwich Village and others. Culture changes with the architecture, for immigrants in the 19th century established separate areas as their own and that is where the stigma of each neighborhood comes from. London’s districts have their own stigmas, which are surprisingly similar with ours—or perhaps not so surprising, for great cities look alike. Mayfair in London is like New York’s Upper East Side, the area that everyone covets to have an address in. Kensington and Chelsea are other high-class areas of London, which mirror New York’s Upper West Side, and coincidentally, NYC’s Chelsea. Moreover, London and New York share two more names of analogous districts, Greenwich and SoHo. That cannot be coincidence. The boundaries that draw each area are differences in ethnicity, social class, nightlife, and culture.
Sit down and rest. The walk was tiring, but much was seen. Our stroll through New York City was vibrant and adventurous, encountering fake-purse hagglers, Italian sausage experts, bohemian poetry slammers, large sunglass celebrities, and more. London sported a different cast, but the same big city feel, in which we found off-pitch singing soccer fans, indie rock prospects, 5 p.m. pub loyalists, and even the prime minister. These two super-cities are the mixing pots of the world. They do not seem to be slowing down yet. Instead, to get ahead of the other, each city must be constantly cooking up something new. And boy does it smell good.