Looking across a park to an historic building with a river and modern skyscrapers beyond
Architecture,  Street photography,  Sunday Stills,  Themed galleries

Gallery: what makes a perfect city?

Johnny Town-mouse was born in a cupboard. Timmy Willie was born in a garden. Timmy Willie was a little country mouse who went to town by mistake …

Beatrix Potter

When Beatrix Potter adapted Aesop’s fable about the town mouse and the country mouse, in her picture book The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse, she concluded that tastes differ. Some of us seem born to city life, others are happiest in the country. I fall firmly into the first group.

A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again.

Margaret Mead

So for Terri’s Sunday Stills ‘Urban’ theme I thought I would explore what I look for in a perfect city. And don’t be surprised if you see a lot of images of London; it is after all the city I call home, and I love it!

Water

Ideally it will have water: a river, a harbour, maybe even a coastline.

Modern buildings either side of a river

The view of the Thames from Tower Bridge in London

View along a river with several bridges at sunset

The river Tyne and some of its bridges, Newcastle

View of a city with a harbour and distant mountains

Reykjavik’s harbour seen from the Hallgrimskirkja (church) tower


Buildings

It will have some beautiful buildings, both grand public ones but also more intimate structures, including homes.

Ornate buildings with a lake in the foreground

Buildings in London’s Whitehall, seen from St James’ Park

Ornate clock and carved stone figures

Grand Central Station, New York City

Row of brightly painted houses

Houses in London’s Notting Hill district (no, I don’t live here!)

Terrace of small white houses

Mews houses near Gloucester Road, London (nor here!)

Looking up at a tall house with balconies

Houses on the Ile Saint Louis in Paris (nor even here – if only!)

Row of tall pastel coloured houses

More lovely houses in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin


Parks

My perfect city will have at least one park; but ideally several are needed, to be the lungs of the city.

Lake with trees around it, ducks and a bridge to an island

The Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris

Woman sitting on grass drinking coffee

In Green Park, London

Pond with stone lantern and autumn trees

Holland Park’s Japanese Garden, London


History

It should respect and have preserved a sense of its own history, both ancient and more recent.

Carved monument and brick wall with arches

Trajan’s Arch and the Colosseum, Rome

Stone tower with windows

The Black Gate in Newcastle, one of the few remnants of the castle that gave the city its name

Man taking photos among large concrete blocks

A visitor to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Small bronze squares with people's names and dates

Stolpersteine in Berlin


Vistas

We need some views, some vistas on the city, so we can appreciate it as a whole, not just in its details. My featured photo shows the view of London’s Docklands from Greenwich; here are some more.

Looking across trees to a city

View of Paris from the suburb of Belleville

View of a city with a volcano beyond

View over Naples at sunset

View across water to a modern city

Manhattan from Liberty Island, New York City

Cityscape with lights coming on and traces of pink in the sky

New York City at sunset from the Top of the Rock


Street art

I’d like to see some vibrant street art, even though I know it’s not to everyone’s taste! Just one example, as I’ve posted so much elsewhere in this blog. I’ve chosen one that seems particularly appropriate.

Wall painting of a city with a river

Mural on the south bank of the Thames in London


Culture

Talking of art, what is a city without culture? Museums, theatres, art galleries, …

Modern building with glass wall and sweeping curved white roof

Zaha Hadid’s stunning extension at the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens

Looking up inside a modern building with curves and a glass ceiling

Inside the Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Aerial view of bookshelves and a woman browsing

Looking down at bookstacks in Seattle’s pioneering public library


People

But in the end it all comes down to the people; people make a city.

A group of teenagers on stone steps

Young people on a warm evening in Bologna

Three men sitting talking by a stall selling clothing

Stall-holders in a Marrakesh souk

Parents and two children feeding birds by a large pond with surrounding houses

A family feeding the ducks at Tjörnin Pond in Reykjavik

People sitting in unusual blue seats in a large square

Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier on a Sunday afternoon

People with flags standing around a monument
People with flags standing around a monument

Participants at the recent London Stand With Ukraine march, at Piccadilly Circus; a time to be proud of my city

59 Comments

  • rkrontheroad

    I’ve lived in cities most of my life, but now in a small mountain town. I love being here and it’s home now, surrounded by nature, but I still need a city fix now and then. This was a good one! Glad to see the last couple of photos with the Ukraine flags.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Ruth 🙂 I believe most of us need a ‘fix’ of a very different environment now and then – urban if we live in the country or small town, rural if we live in a city or larger town. To spend all our time just in one or the other is limiting in some way. I feel I would miss all the conveniences of urban life were we to move to the country (and luckily my husband feels the same) but maybe we would adjust and come to love it????

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think we’re all biased in favour of our own cities, or at least the ones in which we’ve chosen to live 🙂 And from my brief visit to Glasgow some years ago I have to agree it has a lot going for it!

  • Monkey's Tale

    You’ve made the perfect city with your pictures by combining the best elements. I do love visiting big cities for the architecture and culture, but I prefer to live in a moderate city close to nature. Maggie

  • Suzanne@PictureRetirement

    Sarah, i grew up in rural Florida, (population 10,000) followed by a 25 year stint in Miami,(population 2M and counting) followed by a 20+ year stint in Martin County (population 160,000). Each place taught me lessons for a lifetime and I enjoyed, and still enjoy each place. I could return to live in Miami at any time, but Malcolm doesn’t have the patience for the city anymore. I love it for all the reasons you mentioned and more. Those varied experiences have certainly contributed to my wanderlust and help me recognize the true heartbeat of each place we visit.

    We live a quiet life in a small town surrounded by rivers and an ocean just 20 minutes away. Access to several major Florida cities within a short car ride – Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach make it easy to visit those cities any time I feel inclined. Returning to my rural roots once or twice per year is always fun. All in all, I think I have the best of all worlds.

    As always, your pictorial is as fascinating as it is beautiful.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for this thoughtful response Suzanne. It sounds like you’ve found the perfect balance for the two of you 🙂 Luckily my husband is a city-lover too, and although not originally from London he loves living here for all the opportunities it offers – galleries, cinema, restaurants etc. Plus as travellers we really appreciate the proximity to airports (we’re only 20 minutes from Heathrow).

  • RosalieAnn Beasley

    Bob and I both grew up in a city, but he is definitely a country mouse. And I’m happy in the country. But I think Margaret Mead’s definition has been OTBE. We certainly don’t have to wait a week for answers anymore.

    A city is more photographically dense than the country I think.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It’s interesting isn’t it that some of us grow up preferring the environment we were born to while others crave the opposite! You’re right that we no longer have to wait a week for answers but it’s certainly still true that tasting the food of other countries is much easier in a city (well certainly that’s the case in England, apart from Indian and Chinese food perhaps). And I think finding new voices is easier too, as in the country you tend to see the same people every day and it’s less culturally diverse. Of course we can find these things online but it’s not quite the same imho.

      • Annie Berger

        Sarah,

        Don’t mean to piggyback on someone else’s comment but I didn’t see a spot at the bottom to add another comment.

        One other thing I’d add to the advantages of living in or near a city is the ready access to transportation to other places.

        You summed up beautifully in your text and photos why we also love living in a city or having the opportunity to visit others when we travel.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          That’s not a problem Annie, although there should be a box for comments right at the foot of the page 😀 I completely agree about transport links. One reason we love living in west London is that we’re only 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport!

  • sheetalbravon

    What an amazing post, Sarah! You thought of everything that makes the city life so vibrant and your photos convey all so beautifully. I’ve never been to any of the places mentioned in your post so you can see how fascinating it is to take a peek.

  • Yvonne+Dumsday

    Many thanks for that wonderful cities’ tour. Second best to seeing those for myself (tmough some I have so thanks also for the memories).

  • restlessjo

    Something for everyone, Sarah! Love that view of New York at night. A city I’ve never been to- always felt it would be too much ‘bustle’, but it certainly doesn’t lack for life.

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Great post again Sarah.As you will have noticed, we nearly always include major cities on our travels, it’s all part of understanding different cultures and the feeling of “getting to know” a new city is always really stimulating. Remember your post linking city scenes with song lyrics?…..”you always were a city girl, though you were country raised”…springs to mind. Always reminds me of my daughter – who’s now lived in London, Manchester and Los Angeles. Don’t think I’ll ever lose the thrill of uncovering a new city. And yep, London remains a firm favourite no matter how far afield we travel.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😊 I agree, you can’t completely understand a country without visiting its cities, although on occasion we do find ourselves skipping them if time is limited (San Jose being a recent case in point). Oddly I don’t recall that I did a post linking city scenes with song lyrics – are you sure you’re thinking of me? The closest I can find is the one with the words of ‘Coming home Newcastle’ – is that what you’re thinking of perhaps? Or a different blogger altogether?!!

  • the eternal traveller

    Yes, you’ve covered all the necessities perfectly. I’d like to add the need for excellent dining establishments – they shouldn’t be fancy or expensive, just offering delicious food in lovely surroundings.

  • Wind Kisses

    I love everything about the way you presented this Sarah. The photos are beautiful, and the story from your heart. All beautiful cities. I love the apartness building from Berlin especially as I watched that city change so much over the years. Always lovely posts. donna

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Donna, I really appreciate that feedback 😊 I know what you mean about Berlin. The first time we went was in the 1980s when the city was divided, so to go back and see the districts in the east of the city so liveable was a real pleasure!

  • Susanne Swanson

    Magnificent photos, Sarah! I love your take on the ‘Urban’ theme. I also love to visit a vibrant city and this makes me want to visit New York City again (I went there once years ago, my husband’s never been) and also return to London which you capture wonderfully! I especially like your featured photo. 🙂

  • Heyjude

    Cities by the coast are my favourites. I’m thinking Cape Town, Vancouver, San Francisco, Sydney and Auckland. Places that have the culture vibe, but also close to a beach getaway.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m with you on that Jude – I loved San Francisco in particular for that reason but we were there so long ago I didn’t really have any decent enough photos that would have fitted this blog. That’s one of the things I love about Newcastle too – it’s not exactly ON the coast but you can be there in 20 minutes on the Metro or by car 🙂

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    Now I know you a lot better, Sarah, although I suspected you leaned more toward city life. Wow, your images tell such a story from so many angles. My faves are London and Berlin, places I would love to travel to sooner than later. I Love how you worked in the park areas and green spaces, such important leisure spaces in which to get some respite from the hustle and bustle. I’m definitely a country mouse but I love to visit anyplace new!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you, I try to be – or maybe more accurately, I try to be thoughtful more generally (or am naturally so?) Living in a city almost all my life I guess I’m very aware of all aspects – and I could have added more!

  • Rose

    I agree with you about what makes a perfect city. I think I’m both – country and city – perhaps 60% country, 40% city. Or maybe more accurately, I like change. It’s fun to be in the City with the bright lights, the art and culture, the wide variety of people, the architecture and gorgeous cityscapes… And it’s fun to go into the country and look up at star-filled skies, and listen to frogs, and enjoy all of the peace and the natural landscapes, without other people.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Rose. I think many of us love both environments, but when it comes to a choice of which to live in, that’s where we differ. I love the countryside for all the reasons you cite, so I enjoy visiting it, but I wouldn’t want to live there. And I’m sure many country-dwellers enjoy a day out, or a weekend, in a big city – but at the end of it can’t wait to get home for some peace and quiet!

  • margaret21

    You make a very strong case for cities. And I agree with you. Marvellous to visit for a while. But then this Country Mouse needs to retreat to the calm of her little corner of the countryside and re-group!

    • sustainabilitea

      I’m in your corner, Margaret. Although we’ve always lived in the suburbs, my favorite city is one I visit but don’t actually live in. My ideal suburb would be somewhere close to places that aren’t even small towns. 🙂 And my ideal anywhere populated should have lots of parks and natural places to get away from the city.

      janet

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Completely agree with you both 🙂 And after all, if we ALL opted to live in the country it wouldn’t be the country any more 😂 I feel about it the same way you do about cities Margaret – I love visiting the country for a few days but know I couldn’t live there. The thought of having to get in the car every time I needed anything is enough on its own to keep me where I am! For the record Janet, I too live in a suburb so I have plenty of parks on my doorstep, but I can be in central London in 30 minutes on the Tube 😀

  • Paul

    Love your photos. A very comprehensive selection of ‘urban’. You’re absolutely right about it being the people that give towns and cities their character, life and human quality.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Paul, I’m happy you liked my post 🙂 And yes, I couldn’t talk about the pleasures of city life without mentioning the people. The crowds in London get on my nerves at times (the quietness of lockdowns was at first a nice change and even a pleasure, but soon became disconcerting). But it wouldn’t be the city it is without them!

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