4 Cities That Define America

by Nate St. Pierre on December 6, 2012

Yesterday NASA released new hi-res, night-sky images of Earth. The collection is called Black Marble – City Lights 2012; you should check it out.

While looking at the image of the United States, it struck me again, as it always does, at just how much power and influence is concentrated in such small areas. I’ve traveled all over this country, and one stereotype I’ve found to be true is that most people from the coasts know the coasts, and don’t really know much about what’s “in the middle,” which is the lumped-in term I’ve heard used for the Midwest, the South, the West, the Mountain States, and even the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve marked up one of the maps to illustrate (click to enlarge).

When people talk about the East Coast and West Coast, they’re usually not talking about literally all the cities along those coasts (even though they may not know it). They’re actually talking about an idea, a certain way of life and thinking. And that’s exactly why these four cities are so powerful, which we’ll get to in a minute. But first, let’s define the areas:

– East Coast (basically the northeast coastal cities): Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C.

– West Coast (basically the California coastal cities): San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, sometimes San Diego

– The Middle: everything else

You’ll see the areas above outlined in gray on the map. Within those outlines, you’ll also see the specific pockets of greatest power and influence in red. These are:

Technology: San Francisco Bay Area
Entertainment: Los Angeles
Media: New York City
Politics: Washington D.C.

These are the four cities that define America. And when I say “define,” I’m not talking about four places that are truly representational of how we as a country live. They are a big part of the way we live, but they’re not the only way. I’m certainly not downplaying or attacking these cities – they are some of the best things this country has to offer, and they help make up who we are as a nation. I do need to point out, however, that they wield an extraordinary amount of influence over the way that we see ourselves, and the way the world sees us.

These four cities define America because they define perceptions of culture. It’s true that the culture of a place like New York City is vastly different than Wichita, Kansas, and neither is “right” or “wrong” . . . but only one of those places gets to showcase their worldview on TV for everyone to see. Think about what that means for a minute.

When you think of any place in the world, of course you think about the geographical landscape, but what if you’ve never lived there, or spent any appreciable time there? More importantly, you form an idea of a place, and that idea is shaped first by your own experience, and if that’s limited, it’s shaped by things you’ve seen, heard, or “know” about that place.

So for the majority of Americans and the rest of the world, the idea of America is shaped by what we can see, hear and “know,” gathered through external sources. And for the United States of America, those sources are people and organizations that live the majority of their lives on the East Coast or West Coast, and most likely inside those four small pockets of influence in their respective fields.

And that’s why New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area get to define America.

It’s not good or bad, but it is what it is, and we would be wise to consider the source. After all, take a look at the map again. There’s a whooooole lot of different ways of life being lived outside those little red circles.

Agree? Disagree? Discussion welcome.

Previous post:

Next post: