Architecture and friendliness

A popular photo of Boston's Beacon Hill. (Travel & Leisure)

A popular photo of Boston’s Beacon Hill. How unfriendly! (Travel & Leisure)

My friend Cliff Vanover just sent me a link to Travel & Leisure’s new survey on the 266 places that made it onto its list of World’s Unfriendliest Cities. The unfriendliest was Moscow. A hint of political bias, perhaps? How could they tell? Could it be because Russia invaded Ukraine last year? That may say a lot more about Russia’s friendliness as a nation than its capital’s friendliness as a city. Baltimore scored high, and can you guess why? Of course, recent rioting over police brutality. But does that truly measure the extent to which people in Baltimore are friendly or not to tourists? Hardly likely!

Boston was ranked the 15th unfriendliest city. Providence was 16th. Newport was 29th. Why? Because Newport is crowded and has so many mansions for the wealthy, natch!

I think trying to measure a city’s unfriendliness is just as silly as trying to measure its happiness. I will add what I wrote in my reply to Cliff:

How can the unfriendliness of cities be measured except through inherently unreliable personal anecdotes (not that the anecdotes are false but generalizing from them is hazardous). Every city has friendly and unfriendly people. But I would add (predictably) that beautiful cities are probably friendlier cities because the people there are probably, all other things being equal, happier. Whereas a city of sterile glass-box towers is probably reflecting something, though it may not be easy to identify it precisely.

What I forgot to mention to Cliff is that going through the 266 unfriendly cities you see that each one is represented by a single photograph, and in the vast preponderance of cases the editors chose a photo of a city’s lovely traditional architecture and ignored the cluster of sterile glass and steel towers that most of them have. This may have reflected an unconscious bias on the part of editors in favor of beauty, intended in part, perhaps, to gently apologize to the cities it unjustly criticized (as the editors surely recognize). A city’s unfriendliness probably cannot be quantified at all, never mind listed in a way that pretends to rank their degree of unfriendliness in some sort of rational order. Shame!

Or maybe the editors simply thought that showing a city’s traditional architecture would be interesting and distinctive, whereas showing all their glass boxes would be a boring demonstration of how so many cities are now indistinguishable from each other.

Any way you slice it, the importance of beauty rises to the top, whether it is the happiness or the friendliness of cities that is at issue.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Art and design, Books and Culture, Other countries, Photography, Providence, Rhode Island, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Architecture and friendliness

  1. Jim Raftus says:

    My admittedly snide bumper sticker suggestion for Dallas shows my feelings, “Hey, At Least We’re Not Houston”.


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