2014 was the year in which Bristol, the city I live in, really caught the media’s attention. Depending on what you read we’re either a bunch of ambition-less hippies, or a thriving community of up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs. But either way, we’re still topping those best-city-to-live-in lists, and it seems a large number of Londoners are upping sticks and heading for our hilly, graffiti-emblazoned streets. Look – there’s even a Buzzfeed listicle about it.
I know a lot of people here aren’t too happy about this. They’re worried about media hype killing our wonderful city the way it has vast swathes of East London, leaving us with nothing but over-priced ‘warehouse’ flats and overpaid finance workers desperate to appear edgy. But hey, I’m filled with Christmas joy right now, so I’m going to choose to look on the positive side. I’m proud to see the city I love getting the attention it deserves.
So just to add my own, very small, slice to the hype, here’s my definitive list of why Bristol is the best city to live in, ever…
1. Life is just easy
All my friends live within a 10-minute cycle ride of me. It’s easy to get to know people and make new friends, as everyone seems connected in one way or another – and I don’t mean in the annoying, suffocating way you experience in your hometown. It’s also cheap – not as cheap as Manchester, granted, but you don’t need tonnes of money in order to live well. And the city is reasonably compact and accessible, which allows us to be spontaneous – in London, you have to book people at least one month in advance, whereas in Bristol people often don’t know what they’re doing on a Friday night until an hour before. Honestly, it’s really difficult to feel lonely in Bristol… and way too easy in London.
2. You can’t beat the geography
When I first moved to Bristol, someone described it to me as ‘having everything London has, but only one of it.’ I think this is true. On top of this, it also has a lot that London doesn’t have – mostly in the form of amazing access to some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK. I can cycle from my house and be surrounded by fields in half an hour – great for a bit of post-work river swimming in summer. Or you can cross Clifton Suspension Bridge and suddenly be submerged amongst the trees in Leigh Woods. And if you want to get away for longer, just drive for a couple of hours and and you’ll find yourself on a beautiful beach, perhaps in North Devon or The Gower, or having a picnic alongside the River Wye. If you’re into anything outdoorsy then Bristol is an amazing base to start exploring from – then in the evening you can come back and enjoy a decent night out instead of being stuck in a village pub with no wine list and no one under 40.
3. There’s an amazing creative spirit
There’s a stereotype of people in Bristol being unambitious. I disagree. I think many of us are highly ambitious, just in a rather unconventional way. If you define ambition as wanting to climb to the top of a company and make as much money as possible then no, we’re probably not that ambitious. But there’s a real creative energy here and the sense that, if you have an idea, then this is a place you can make it happen. I barely know anyone who just does their day job – most people seem to have all kinds of side projects on the go. Every weekend there’ll be around 50 (figure based on guesswork not data) weird and wonderful events happening – some good quality, some a bit on the rubbish side, but all driven by a desire to experiment and celebrate. I think our city holds a large number of people determined to find a new way of living; one where we can achieve our goals and visions outside of the rat race while still having enough free time to actually enjoy life. Ok, so reading that last sentence back does make me think of that first scene from Portlandia. But when you have people like Arianna Huffington preaching how society’s model of success needs redefining, perhaps we might actually be onto something?
Little things I love about Bristol: When you’re cycling up a huge hill and your thighs feel like they’re going to burst, then you get to the top and are confronted by the most fantastic views over the city; houses painted different colours; the harbourside in summer; still being able to buy three drinks for a tenner; St Paul’s fucking Carnival;the Bristol-Bath cycle path; food at St Nick’s market; walking through Stokes Croft really early in the AM and seeing the gorgeous morning light hitting the street art and the fly posters and the tramps’ piss and the empty Slix cartons, and making it all appear strangely beautiful.
And for balance, a few things I hate: the public transport system; the architectural disasterzones that are Broadmead and Cabot Circus; dickheads who go out on the triangle; too much ketamine and nos everywhere; elitist, humourless hippies; cliche street art; sixth form-style politics. And that’s about it.