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Know the West

Three cheers for cities

  Dear HCN,

While Thomas Powers' analysis of the economic value of the Western environment is powerful and persuasive, I wish he could make his point without denigrating other places (HCN, 8/2/99). Those of us who live in large urban areas - New York City, for example - are well aware of the negatives Power lists: "high cost of living, congestion, crime, urban grime and pollution, etc."

But we also see another side: the energy, richness of human contacts, and sheer range of opportunities that continue to lure a steady stream of new residents and keep many older ones happily here. For the fact is that while New Yorkers, as Powers suggests, are constantly flowing out to smaller communities, they are balanced (and in recent years overbalanced) by an inward flow that includes not only immigrants from all over the world but also ambitious and talented young people from those same smaller communities around the country. The attraction is not grime and crime but a range of opportunities that many find life-fulfilling.

I would not argue that life in New York is better than in Montana. But neither is it necessarily worse. It is different. It should be possible to uphold the values of one - as Powers has ably done - without denigrating the other.

Ned Kaufman

New York, New York

The writer is an urban planner and preservationist in New York City.