How To Start A Week

Trolling around the Internet seeking news on the urban world (which is to say the half the human world), I came across Mercer Consulting’s recent list of the 50 “best cities for quality of life.” Vienna is first. Toronto is the top-rated city in North America. The best US city, according to the report, is Honolulu, followed by San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington, New York, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. Interesting that no US cities make their list of 50 safest cities (all of Canada’s major cities rank well).

The Urban Age Project just released its rankings of health, education, and wealth among 129 metropolitan regions around the world. The healthiest of these regions are Hong Kong, Osaka, Tokyo, Singapore, and Stockholm. Philadelphia ranks 26 in health (10th among US cities), 5th overall in education (behind Sydney, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco), and is tied for 3rd overall in wealth (behind Boston and Washington).

It’s sometimes nice to be reminded of our extraordinary assets; of course wealth and education matter only so far as we put them to good use–certainly a debatable proposition.

In any case, these rankings are intrinsically suspect and often besides the point, which is why I far prefer to start this week with this, the opening poem of Jorge Luis Borges’ first book of poetry (Fervor de Buenos Aires), published initially in 1923. The soul is in the streets…

Photo: Bradley Maule, PhillySkyline.com

Las Calles (1969 edition)/The Streets (translated from the Spanish by Stephen Kessler)

Las calles de Buenos Aires
ya son mi entraña.
No las ávidas calles,
incómodas de turba y de ajetreo,
sino las calles desganadas del barrio,
casi invisibles de habituales,
enternecidas de penumbra y de ocaso
y aquellas más afuera
ajenas de árboles piadosos
donde austeras casitas apenas se aventuran,
abrumadas por inmortales distancias,
a perderse en la honda visión
de cielo y de llanura.
Son para el solitario una promesa
porque millares de almas singulares las pueblan,
únicas ante Dios y en el tiempo
y sin duda preciosas.
Hacia el Oeste, el Norte y el Sur
se han desplegado–y son también la patria–las calles:
ojalá en versos que trazo
estén esas banderas.

THE STREETS

My soul is in the streets
of Buenos Aires.
Not the greedy streets
jostling with crowds and traffic,
but the neighborhood streets where nothing is happening,
almost invisible by force of habit,
rendered eternal in the dim light of sunset,
and the ones even farther out,
empty of comforting trees,
where austere little houses scarcely venture,
overwhelmed by deathless distances,
losing themselves in the deep expanse
of sky and plains.
For the solitary one they are a promise
because thousands of singular souls inhabit them,
unique before God and in time
and no doubt precious.
To the West, the North, and the South
unfold the streets–and they too are my country;
within these lines I trace
may their flags fly.

**

(If you’re wondering, Buenos Aires ranks 31 for health, 26 in education, 29 in wealth…)

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



1 Comment


  1. In the wealth category, Washington DC-Baltimore is # 1, San Francisco is # 2, and Philadelphia is tied for 3rd with New York and Boston. A bunch of other cities, especialy in US & Europe are extremely close behind.

    It still seems hard to believe, and obviously the suburbs need to heavily factor in.

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