On Travel: The Duality of Cities

I think cities are one of the most interesting places in the world to travel to.  To the average person, that’s a pretty obvious statement.  “Cities are where the interesting thing happen,” one might think.  But for me, traveling to cities is more than simply a function of having more activities to keep a trip interesting.  If that were the case, I’d rather stay home where I know where all the interesting activities are taking place rather than travel across to some distant place only to realize that I’m not at all aware of the social scene there.

No, traveling to cities is great because they present for me the greatest juxtaposition of humanity.  On one hand we have the towering skyscrapers that hang over many downtowns and skylines.  On the other there is the slums, the skid rows, the unmentionables.  In between those extremes there is everything, from small suburb within a city type areas to centres where culture and art flourish.

“Cities are metaphors in steel and stone.”

Rio de Janeiro at night

Rio de Janeiro at night

Powerful statement. I believe it to be true – cities are reflections of the humanity that dwells within it.  I’ve always been impressed by the dual nature of cities that I’ve visited.  From Mumbai to Sydney, Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., I think I’ve seen a hint of what the pundits might call “income inequality.”  Rest assured, this is not something that is confined to the United States, but rather something that happens across the globe.  I remember the gleaming towers of Mumbai when I landed there last December.  It seemed like it was a metropolis fit for international investment.  The silver skyscrapers of Vancouver in front of a mountain backdrop… the best of cities are really representative of what man can do when we put our best to the job.

At the same time, cities also house some of the poorest areas in the world.  Rapid urbanization has led to increased density of living, especially among those who are at the wrong end of the income gap.  Visiting places like Dharavi, the Tenderloin district, and Vancouver’s downtown east side brings me crashing back to reality.  Blocks away from the gleaming skyscrapers are places where we as humanity have failed each other.  It’s a stark reminder that there is always more to be done in this world, that we can’t just leave people behind.

Dharavi Slums

Dharavi Slums

So why do I find myself in cities so often when I travel?  Yes, part of it is the convenience factor of having an airport to fly into, but realistically, it is the fact that I can observe all parts of humanity up close: those who are rich as well as those who do not have much.  All parts of a city are beautiful, don’t discount a part of one just because it is outside of your comfort zone.  So what do cities represent for you?

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