The Spirit of CitiesIf you had to describe our city with just one word or phrase, what would you choose? That's the question we asked ourselves after reading this Atlantic Cities article on Daniel A. Bell's new book, The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age.

Bell, Canadian-born but a longtime China resident, and his co-author Avner de-Shalit try to define nine cities by their "prevailing ethos." At first glance, the list seems screamingly obvious (Paris is the city of romance? Jerusalem religion? Who knew?). But it gets a little more interesting when Bell dives into Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore, all places he’s lived.

According to Bell, Asian cities take their inspiration from Confucius. Confucius advocated a "socially harmonius" society in which no state forced its power on the citizens. Confucianism "emphasizes rule by ritual and moral example rather than reliance on punishment, the pursuit of harmony rather than conformity, and a political ideal of a peaceful and borderless world," writes Bell, who teaches ethics and political philosophy at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Bell's book didn't tackle Chicago so we thought we might give it a try—with a little help from our Web community. Last week, we asked our Twitter followers and Facebook fans to give us the perfect word or phrase to capture our city. There were the obvious choices—"cold," "windy," and the like—but we found the following to be more accurate, poignant, and/or amusing:

"Fickle." – @CassandraGaddo

"A lovely so real (stolen from my favorite Algren quote about Chicago)" – @starburstt

"modern architecture wiki" – @vavera4ka

"Loyal" – @kerryannsugrue

"overtaxed" – @newtonslawpc

"Civilization." – Susan Venegoni

"Jordanesque" – @KissMyGritsSon

"Sandburg said it best: 'Stormy, husky, brawling'" – @kellyzech

"reinventing itself." – @xentek

"Who needs NYC?" – D.j. Mahan

"Cooler by the lake" – @theRightSteph

"Neighborhoody" – Vince LiFonti

"Insouciant." – @JamesJanega

Read more responses in the slideshow below, then leave yours in our comments.


Photographs: Flickr via kosheahan and Princeton University Press