About a week and a half ago, Buzzfeed’s “What City Should You Actually Live In?” rapidly made the social media rounds. Since then, we have seen a number of other “What ___ Should you Actually__?” appear, but, as urban planning students, my peers and I were particularly drawn to this test.
I am happy to say Buzzfeed thinks I should actually live in Barcelona. My planning friends’ cities ranged from Portland (deemed “boring” by most; we hear about this city incessantly in school) and Los Angeles to London and Cape Town (these people seemed particularly proud). I have to admit, I was so intrigued with the idea of taking a nine question multiple choice test to determine where Buzzfeed deemed an appropriate urban match, I took the test about four or five times. While part of this was pure procrastination, the ordeal and various Facebook exchanges with friends got me thinking about what this test really means. What does it say about our perceptions of cities? And of coffee and Beyonce, for that matter.
I emailed the author for the answer key so I could see the web of characteristics the quiz relates to certain cities. Unfortunately, I did not get a response; I can imagine Buzzfeed writers get about 600 emails a day. I then thought experience taking the test multiple times and hearing others' results based on particular answers might reveal enough about the answer key to glean something interesting.
According to this test, people who love bread should live in Paris, people who love Bon Iver should live in Portland, and people whose bucket list includes “Road Trip America” likely should not live in the US. Unfortunately, these tidbits reveal little more than stereotypes about certain cities and nationalities. I can almost guarantee the “backpack Europe” bucket list item corresponds with cities in the US.
Although this seems uninteresting, I found it curious that a number of friends from some of the listed cities actually ended up with different, quite “dissimilar” cities (i.e. someone from LA “should actually live in” Portland). Aside from proving stereotypes wrong, I liked how this test (read: procrastination tool) could stretch our imaginations about where we, as planners and as people, might ‘fit in.’ After all, though the few answers I provided above were painfully obvious, a number of the answer combinations, which consider nourishment (“poison” included), music, and ‘mate’ preferences, have surprising results.
However, perhaps a more accurate and less rosy reading of test finds that both the nature of the questions themselves and the answer to where you should actually live reflect how your pop-culture, surface level preferences fit into a generalized, universal vision of a city. Although this reading moves little beyond listing stereotypes of cities, it demonstrates that the people who made this test accurately see how people who are likely to take this test (Buzzfeed demographic plus people who love cities) associate their preferences with certain city identities. Unfortunately, the test therefore zeros in on a narrow, in some cases idealized, conceptualization of cities, rather than an understanding of the complexities and diversity of city society and life. Perhaps it is not an entirely useless endeavor, however. It did prompt multiple fun, even engaging, conversations. More importantly, it demonstrates to me and perhaps other planners that we too get easily caught up in the surface level conceptions of cities.
Photo: Las Ramblas, Barcelona, courtesy of Chris Herlich