Monday, July 23, 2007

Boston vs Chicago

No, this isn't a sports match-up. (And realistically, while I'm not a fan of either city's teams, does Chicago even have a franchise that could legitimately challenge any of the Boston area teams? At least currently?) Rather this is a musing on the prime requirement for real estate: location, location, location. Not that I'm looking to buy a house in either location at the moment. Instead I'm faced with that common cliche of writing: "write what you know." The problem is, I don't really know either city all that well.

I'm stuck with this problem as I try and decide where to set my current story. (Or more accurately, one of my current stories. I've got a few irons in the fire - speaking of cliches.) When the story began life way back when I was in high school, I set it in NYC. The NYC of the future, as the plot was a sci-fi one. I had never even been to NYC , in fact the only major cities I'd been to at that time were, in order, Cleveland, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. And I hadn't really lived in any of them.

Besides, as I was writing in the future, I figured i was only marginally bound by any current city's actuality. Hey, I said I was in high school, remember? A certain amount of naivete is par for the course. When, older and wiser, I came back to the narrative, I realized that it might help to have at least a passing familiarity with my chosen setting. "Write what you know" and all that. The problem was, I needed - or rather wanted - a major city, and the list of cities I had any first-hand knowledge of was... drum roll please... Cleveland, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. And I still hadn't really lived in any of them.

But a little later I visited Chicago, and over the years visited it several times. Enough times that I have walked it's streets, and while I may not know where everything is - far from it - I have a feel for the place. And armed with a good map and the resources of the internet, I can plot things out. Plus I have a really great book on the buildings along the river. Here was a city I could modernize and have my hero and heroine run around in with confidence.

Up to a point, that point being limited by not having actually lived in the city, or any of its immediate suburbs. My knowledge came from passing through and the odd afternoon spent there.

Now I live in Boston, which although it is a nice enough city I have to say I think I preferred Chicago. Be that as it may, I live here, and so have a much greater knowledge of some aspects of actually residing in the city. (Like the public transportation system only runs in to or out of town, it doesn't connect any of the surrounding areas. And how the way you get somewhere isn't always the way you get back, because none of the roads here are actually straight. There are no square blocks. Anywhere.) But I don't know the downtown area much at all.

Which seems strange, and says something about the nature of living in a place as opposed to visiting it, but doesn't help with my predicament. Moreover, Boston has kindly furnished me with a map of their vision of the city in about ten to fifteen years. Replete with the sort of downtown layout that can come in very handy.

There are other factors, of course, one of the most notable being that this isn't a short story we're talking about but a novel, and one with a number of scenes in it that have already been adapted for the Windy City. Changing all of that would be a major undertaking and at this juncture the end product's already been delayed far longer than I ever anticipated. Plus there are certain things about choosing a city that, once done, it's like a separate character. You just can't go in and casually switch it. Chicago's had some powerful mayors, whereas Boston's mostly dominated by state politics. In addition, Chicago still feels like more of a major city. That might have something to do with just the size of the downtown area, and Chicago's passion for architecture.

I suppose I should probably stick with the city I am still more familiar with, despite not living in it. The only solid argument for switching is that I now live in Boston, and can scout locations - not formally as this isn't a movie, but you know what I mean - for a lot less gas money. But I don't think that's enough.

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