Brain Pickings Icon
Brain Pickings

5 Ways to Get More of Life in the City

Ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city.

Urban clutter is easily the biggest pitfall of city life. There’s just too much stuff out there. Consumer psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it “the paradox of choice” — the more that’s available to us, the more frustrated we get with it all and the less likely we are to enjoy or even choose any of it.

Luckily, we’ve got 5 ways to help you navigate all that choice clutter, nail those special city gems, and get the most out of all your social activities.


Here’s the thing about friendship: it’s all about compromise. Especially when making social plans — you want one thing, your friend wants another, so you kinda have to meet each other halfway. Well, now you can do it — literally.

Thanks to, a nifty Google Maps mashup, you can let an algorithm pick your hangout — so there are no ego gauntlets involved. Here’s how it works: you simply plug the starting-point addresses of all the people in the would-be get-together, say what you wanna meet for (like, coffee or ice cream or Italian), and the app spits out a handful of establishments that offer just that in the area halfway between the attendees’ addresses, complete with directions and contact info.

See? Compromise and complete geographic fairness make everything taste better, we promise.


Okay, so maybe you’re a bit more of a control freak. You wanna know the place you’re headed is up to par with your refined palate and sophisticated expectations. Heck, you want nothing short of a fab experience.

Sit back, relax, and let fabsearch do the work. The human-powered engine pulls content you can’t normally find on the Interwebs from editorial icons like Vogue, British Harpers Bazaar, Town and Country, New York Social Diary, Vanity Fair and other give-it-to-you-straight, Zagat-sans-the-fluff sources. The fabsearch team is damn serious about it, too — they spend months sifting through old magazines to really hone the recommendation quality and bring you the ultimate best of the best in hotels and restaurants.

You can search by source or by location — and by “location” we really mean location: from Abu Dhabi to Aspen to Atlanta, they’ve got you covered. We checked out their Philly recommendations and, we must say, these guys are dead-on.

via Give it a shot for your locale and see how your favorite going out staples measure up. Thrillist


But what if you’re out on the town with that all-important extension of yourself — your laptop? Looking for those precious free wireless hotspots can be a hassle, especially if you’re traveling in a new city. Guess what: there’s a way that you can not only find a solution but also be a part of it.

FON is the world’s largest WiFi community, aiming to make WiFi universal and free. The concept is simple: you give some, you get some, and everyone gets a ton. All you do is get a La Fonera community router (just $29.95) and hook it up to your home internet connection. Obviously, you get WiFi at home — but that’s not the point.

The point is that La Fonera is your membership ticket to the FON worldwide community.

This means whenever you travel, you have free access to the FON WiFi that thousands of other users, or Foneros as they call themselves, have shared. And they’re everywhere.

The entire network is 100% safe and, best of all, not only do you get free WiFi across the world, but you can also make a bit of cash whenever non-Foneros connect to the FON network.

But, really, we just dig the idea of claiming our urban web space back from the nasty, unscrupulous monopoly of present.


The bigger your city, the more frustrating that “paradox of choice” thing can get. Which is why those of us in the biggest metropolitan beehives need a bit more help with a bit more stuff — not just dining, but also shopping, nightlife, style, travel and various insider perks.

That’s what Urban Daddy is all about — currently in four of the world’s most culture-overloaded cities (New York, L.A., Las Vegas and San Francisco), and also available in a broad U.S. National edition, the exclusive daily email magazine offers city life pickings carefully curated by a team of professional cool hunters.

And just so you get the level of exclusivity we’re talking here, Urban Daddy is currently invitation-only. But the good news is you can swallow your pride, sign up for their waitlist and hope you’re soon invited to sit at the cool kids’ table in the huge cultural cafeteria that is city life.


One of the great things about city life is that it offers a music experience you can’t get on iTunes: anything from wait-in-line-for-hours megastar live shows to intimate indie gigs in neighborhood cafes. Navigating all the options, of course, is a whole different story.

Luckily, there’s BandsInTown — a cool service you may remember from pickings past that lets you know about upcoming shows by your favorite artists whenever they pop into town. A little IP address birdie tells the algorithm your location, so all you do is say what music you dig. It then spits out a tag cloud of bands and artists, letting you narrow things further by show date (tonight only or not), distance from the city, max price range, and label type (unsigned, indie or major). On top of that, you can also filter results by genre or tag.

It’s all free, super nifty, and it’s telling us Rilo Kiley are playing right across the street on June 5, so we diggidy mucho. Check it out and get ready to show your friends who’s boss in music town.

Missed parts 1 and 2?

Published May 7, 2008




Filed Under

View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated