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I’ll edit this post, since now that I’ve calmed down a little, I think this deserves a proper response.
I don’t agree that population density is the deciding factor in measuring urban life (it might be the “biggest”, but isn’t the overwhelmingly biggest). I think population density is a necessary part, but alone is not sufficient to achieve high levels of urban life. Diversity, transit, and culture also plays huge roles, and you only get high levels of urban life when all of them are met.
I haven’t lived in NYC (only visited a couple of times), so I have no doubt that my impression of NYC isn’t fully accurate. Please understand that I am fully aware of NYC’s massiveness. What I believe, however, is that beyond a certain level of density, you can indeed live the NYC lifestyle, and that more density (or more areas of that level of density) after that simply gets you *more* of it, but doesn’t necessarily make the experience more urban.
Think about it. You’re surrounded by skyscrapers for as far as you find comfortable walking. You’re surrounded by shops and restaurants and services that open past midnight. Every building around you – even the non-skyscrapers, look majestic and epic, yet the streets are incredibly welcoming because they are full of life as countless pedestrians constantly walk past you. You’re never far away from the subway which can take you to all the places you typically want to go. You don’t own a car, because in this environment driving is a detriment. You have access to museums and universities and music academies and parks and all that can be walked to. How does it get more urban than that, lifestyle-wise? You can indeed get all that in downtown Toronto, or many places along its subway lines. NYC has many more area where you can live this lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean this “NYC lifestyle” can’t be had in Toronto.
However, this “NYC lifestyle” is almost nonexistant in where I live now – San Francisco, supposedly the second densest city in the US, because outside of the financial district and some recently-built areas (which are severely lacking in establishments), highrises are practically nonexistent. Instead, what you have is an ocean of 2-3 story medium density victorian rowhouses, where each neighborhood barely gets as vibrant as Toronto’s Annex. There are no subways away from Market street, shops and stores close early, and the ones that do open 24 hours almost always require you to get in your car and drive. Likewise, I’ve visited Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, Los Angeles (#2 by population, but simply an ocean of sprawl), San Diego, Dallas, Houston, and none of them were even close to an NYC-like atmosphere than Toronto. In fact, Vancouver, a metro of merely 2 point something million, felt more urban than many of the urban centers I’ve mentioned.
I said previously that there are one or two exceptions, one is Chicago, and another is possibly Philadelphia, both of which I have not visited. I never meant to belittle NYC or to boast that Toronto is just as big and urban (that would be ridiculous, as NYC is definitely in a level of its own). The original intent of “NYC lifestyle for Seattle prices” was only supposed to highlight Toronto’s bang for the buck. Both “NYC lifestyle” and “Seattle prices” are not entirely accurate, but can you not see what I meant by it?