Appeal of the Great Cities
There were other unique strengths of urban life in the 1930s, which gave reassurance to their inhabitants, especially those in the great metropolitan cities (New York and Chicago, then nearly 10% of America's population): they provided valuable psychological capital for their residents, a sense they were an elite population, gifted as a community and hence also as individuals to live in incomparable places of vitality, excitement, and personal fulfillment. 1 This supposition was not merely comfortably maintained by New Yorkers and those who lived in other mammoth cities in America, it was impressively endorsed by their countrymen in the outlands who added to their rising populations or who visited ritualistically to pay them homage. Our presentation will be primarily concerned with New York, with passing references to Chicago to illustrate parallel developments in the great cities.
Although seemingly incomprehensible to later generations of Americans, the great cities of the 1930s were then considered enviable places to work and live; they enjoyed higher standards of living (they were more likely to have conveniences such as electricity, bathtubs, and hot water, and higher per-capita wealth), and were relatively safe; one could walk New York's streets at night in the most diverse locations without "the slightest sense of danger." 2 But the main appeal of the great cities for numerous Americans was their avant-garde character. They were more interesting, more stimulating, more sophisticated than other places; they provided bright lights, personal freedom, and an everyday ambient world of theater, but also the best museums, the finest entertainment, and recreation, including first-class sports and all the serious culture one wished and could afford. For these reasons, many persons living there embodied a unique and indissoluble ur