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What Makes a City Great?
Is it the restaurants? The museums? The natives? Every Tuesday in February, Morning Edition takes a look at a city or two with people who know them well. They'll provide a glimpse of what makes each place unique.

London and Amsterdam
Amsterdam Bridge
Courtesy, Netherlands Embassy

A bit of heaven, a bit of hell. Great cities have always mixed the wondrous with the horrific. London and Amsterdam, while vital today, were virtual city states in the 1600's, more important than the nations they anchored. They offered the same things we expect from today's urban centers, from great shopping and unusual food to a rich variety of cultures. Along with the exotic came the dreadful -- drunks, filth and disease.

Historian Simon Schama has written vividly about 17th Century Amsterdam and about the saga of his native Britain. audio button NPR's Susan Stamberg travels across time with the author. Listen to her report.

Chattanooga, Tenn.
photo by Mike and Deidre Smith

After the Civil War, Chattanooga, Tennessee, was the largest industrial city in the southern United States. By 1969, the federal government said it had the dirtiest air in the nation. Then the economy tanked and took away thousands of jobs. Chattanooga decided to change its ways, and over the past few decades, the city has been a hub of self-improvement.

A revitalization effort has paid off: Chattanooga has received national recognition for the renaissance of its downtown and redevelopment of its riverfront. NPR's Susan Stamberg recently visited the city of 150,000 and found that Chattanooga possesses a strong sense of community, a handsome audio buttonnatural landscape and seems to have the ability to solve problems that are often daunting to bigger cities. Listen to her report.

City of Chicago / Peter J. Schulz

Take a trip through Chicago with 14-year-old Eve Ewing, who explains to NPR's Susan Stamberg why she loves her city. audio button She's not alone: Money magazine just named Chicago the best place to live in the American Midwest -- and the most livable major city there is. Poet Carl Sandburg loved it too. "What makes Chicago so great is that it looks and acts like a big city, but it doesn't feel like one," Money wrote. In 1916, Sandburg wrote: "Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning." Check out Money magazine's Web site and find out what else the Windy City has going for it. Then have a look at the Utne Reader's Web site, with its list of 10 most underrated towns in America. You might be surprised at who made the cut!

Eiffel Tower
Copyright F. de La Mure/M.A.E.

Make a virtual visit to Paris, where Adam Gopnik -- who writes for The New Yorker -- lived for five blissful years. He's written a book about it, titled Paris to the Moon. "You can walk from one end of Paris (to the other) fairly easily within 2-1/2, three hours. What makes it extraordinary is there's this density of monuments from one end of it to another," Gopnik says. The modern parts of Paris "are hideous," he says. But the food is unimaginably good, the lingerie shops ubiquitous, the friendly chit-chat at your local bakeshop intense. You can't disappear in Paris as you can in New York, Gopnik says. audio button Hear more as he chats with NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg.


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