Tuesday, March 20, 2007

London Vs New York

It’s a perennial tussle, isn’t it, a persistent debate on which city is better – London or New York? Which do you like more? Which do you find more vibrant and exhilarating? Which can claim the mantle of Capital of the World? For those fortunate to have been to both cities, we each have our own preference. But some things are beyond comparison, surely. Consider: Hyde Park or Central Park? The London Underground or the New York Subway? The Tate Modern or MOMA? Pasties and fruitcakes or bagels and pretzels? Often it’s not as straightforward a task as merely tabulating a list of likes and dislikes.

But the answer can still be evident. And I know where my loyalties lie. I prefer London far more than New York, and it’s a view I’ve long held, even before I moved here last September. I like New York. But I like London more. I grew up long enthralled by thoughts of London, while never really being turned by or seduced by that other city across the Atlantic pond. It’s difficult to explain why that’s the case, although I’m sure many harbour opposing sentiments. I first came here way back in 1995, and have returned several times since, enjoying each visit, while the virgin journey to New York was attempted only in 2001.

I’ve been revisiting these thoughts this week, when I came upon the cover story in New York magazine, which covers life and times in the Big Apple – trends, dining, fashion, travel, gossip, and other assorted topics. And incredibly, it was a homage to – of all places – London! Check out the special section here.

It’s a brave move by the good folks at New York magazine. The lead article points to an increasing sense that in the friendly fight between these two global cities, London appears to have seized the upper hand in recent years. Talent from around the world seems to be pouring in, with a visible influx from Eastern Europe. The arts, dining and architecture scenes are flourishing. London beat out New York and other cities for the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. The report proclaims, “If Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century and New York of the twentieth, London is shaping up to be the capital of the 21st.”

Most of all, London has been the beneficiary of a massive boom in the financial sector, so much so that there are fears in New York that their position as a leading hub for capital and services might be usurped. London benefits from its geography, right next to Europe, and in between Asia and the Americas. Onerous post-Enron regulations on companies and post-September 11 clamp-downs in visas and travel have made London a much more attractive location for business. Ambitious young bankers now head to London to make a killing, not New York.

Of course, both cities are stupendously expensive, staggeringly crowded, and serve as prime terror targets, with 9/11 and 7/7 instant shorthand for the respective tragedies of the past few years. I’d reckon that London sucks by having worse weather, creakier infrastructure, and more trash on TV. Yet these realities do not detract from the joy that is to be derived from the charm and excitement of this great city.

Would I enjoy living in New York? How would things be like if I were spending this one year not here, but over there? The experience would be different, I’m sure. I’d be meeting different people, seeing different places. But I’m happy that this is purely a useless counterfactual, for right now, I wouldn’t trade my place here for anywhere else in the world.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must be stressed & fed up with studying ... :) DH

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having just returned from London (and Paris), I must say that London is friendlier, calmer and all/in/all more pleasant. Having said that, it's still kind of Anglo-Saxon, and hence, boring. NYC I live in, but it's over-rated and definitely has terrible infrastructure problems. I'd say London is more human, NYC more brazen. Paris: now THAT'S a city.

2:03 PM  
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