America’s tourist destinations: Orlando and New York are the city names that top the list. They could hardly differ more as places to visit—or, for that matter, as places to live. A tourist’s experience in a city is one key to knowing how it feels to live there.
Other city names you will find on the list are San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
The last two form a group with Orlando: people don’t really come to these places to see the city as a whole, as much as to see certain discrete destinations that happen to be located in them or nearby. Thus, you come to see Caesar’s Palace and Bellagio in Las Vegas, and Disneyland, the Getty Museum and Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles.
People come for the chocolate chips, and mostly they leave the cookie uneaten. One of the reasons is that in these three places, you must have a car to be a tourist, and also to live there. This guarantees that you will ignore the areas between destinations; and it guarantees also that because they are car-based, these areas are ignorable.
To visitors, the attraction in Orlando is not the city, or anything in it, but the city-sized theme parks that lie adjacent: Disney World, Epcot, Universal, etc. These places are boring and passé to anyone who enjoys an actual city, since what they offer (in addition to the fun rides and the staged events) is a kind of edited urban experience (you are, after all, on foot).
Parts left in: walking, crowds, attractions, people from other places. Parts left out: inhabitants, untrammeled free-enterprise, social agitation, spontaneous community celebration, the drama of reality, crime, anything unplanned or unexpected, or genuinely tragic. Utterly banished by management’s diligent watchfulness: the potential to see anything new, original, important or unique (all inherently subversive); anything coming into being; the possibility of witnessing history being made in the raw. There are no whiffs of tear gas on Disney World Main Street; and the next “I Have a Dream” speech will be heard there after its author has been put on a postage stamp.
You pay admission for the edited experience, and the surprises are all predictable.
As for the city of Orlando itself, stripped of theme parks: it has all the world-class draw of Des Moines or Omaha.
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When you come to New York, you’re there to see New York.
In the best cities, the attractions, the destinations, are just the excuse to get you moving; the
in-between is often at least as interesting as the destination. Or to quote pre-cruise-boat Cunard, “Getting there is half the fun.”
You could say that any city that is a good tourist destination is also a good city to live in.
People tell me New York is a great place to visit, but they wouldn’t want to live there.
If they put their theory to the test, they might just discover that it’s a great place to live, but a pretty unforgiving place to visit. Most visitors who don’t know the ropes encounter petty crime, rudeness, scams, dirty bathrooms, a thousand urban inconveniences that every resident knows how to deal with.
After a few weeks of living in Manhattan, you discover that you don’t really have to plan your Saturdays and Sundays; all you have to do is go out the door. Thereafter, the entertainment takes care of itself. On Manhattan’s permissive street grid, you just head in whichever direction seems most interesting that minute. You don’t have to know where you’re going, but if you find yourself outside the Metropolitan or McSorley’s, by all means go on in for a visit. Most New Yorkers who are not anesthetized are lifelong tourists in their own city.
Most run-of-the-mill American places have more in common with Orlando than New York: the attractions they possess are discrete destinations, with not much of interest between. You travel from one to another by car, and there is a parking lot conveniently located at each one. This defines not only the tourist experience but also the reality of everyday life.
Is your city more like New York or Orlando?