There are cities, which are centers of culture; cities, which are centers of power, and population. It is safe to say that cities have value. The loss or impact a city has on the nation while difficult could in a sense be measured with something like gross domestic product. That though would be a terrible way to judge a cities worth. Perhaps population could better judge, though this two is an improper and inaccurate. There are certain cities which “matter” more than they should if you use simple measures to value you them.
Take these two cities as examples. Boston and San Francisco. Each one is populated with fewer than a million people; Boston is home to fewer than 700,000. Yet these cities loom large on the Nation’s conscience. Boston is a center of Finance and Higher Education with a higher concentration of colleges than anywhere else in the States. San Francisco is a banking center and Cultural juggernaut. They are each in the news at levels exceeding arguably more important cities which much larger populations and bigger economies. Take Houston, it’s the fourth largest city in the US and I cannot name a single city official. I cannot name a single significant building, or single historical achievement.
Houston is a significant city, it has a massive population, it has a substantial economy and one of the nation’s largest ports. It is a center of the Nations energy infrastructure. Boston is home to the Boston Pops one of the Nations most popular Orchestras. It looms large in the Nations History for reasons, which should be plain enough—cradle to the American Revolution—it nonetheless has maintained a status as a center for American Life.
San Francisco is, in a significant way a strong competitor to Los Angeles for the crown of most important western city. It is home to large industries and is home to the Nations budding tech sector. It is the setting of countless films and looms large in culture. People left their hearts on San Francisco for decades.
Cultural institutions can have a great impact on perceptions of a city and it is this reason I believe certain cities can seem bigger than they are. Boston has shown it is willing to invest in cultural organizations like the Pops and Museums of Science and Fine Arts as well as its public library the second greatest in the Nation. San Francisco’s Opera is amongst the best in the Nation and the city has been at the forefront of American Culture since the hippies of the 1960’s.
A city doesn’t have to be large to have an impact, but it must be the right type of city to loom large in the national conscience.