In response to a hilarious article about New York City sucking by the Onion, Paul Krugman talks about how easy life is in NYC:
Actually, when I’m in New York what always strikes me is how easy life is in some respects. If I want something from the drug store, or the hardware store, or go see a movie, it’s right there — no need to get in the car and drive several miles.
The thing is, this is all true of my neighborhood in Minneapolis. Literally, as in I can get to a hardware store in about 30 seconds walking, a theater in about a minute, and the drugstore takes all of maybe five minutes to get to. (My walk score is 97.) And I don't have to deal with the insane housing costs, the garbage in the streets or the many other vagaries of NYC life so brilliantly pointed out in the Onion piece.
More importantly, this is true of most cities of decent size. Obviously suburbs are incredibly car-oriented (the house I grew up in has a walk score of 37). But most cities are very compact and walkable. Several Chicago neighborhoods are similar to mine in density. Obviously some cities like Detroit were built with cars in mind, but many or most were not.
Density can also take odd forms. Matt Yglesias pointed out recently how Somerville, MA is actually denser than Chicago or DC. But it doesn't have loads of gleaming skyscrapers or anything, land was just efficiently used. The point is, walkable urban areas exist outside Manhattan and need not look anything like the bustling multitudes and high-rise apartments in New York City.