[Havana] is a city that, although it is physically dirty and full of poor people, is much more a city, and more truly a rich city than New York because it seems to be richer in multitudes of material things, fruits, meats, sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, newspapers, rum, bread, machinery, musical instruments. New York is only rich in gold and silver and account books full of figures and ledgers and fancy printed stocks and ticker tape and nervous energy and electricity. Havana is more of a city because it is flesh and blood, bread and wine, matter charged with life.
It is the nature of a city to be full of people doing things for some immediate end, commercial, esthetic, sinful, what you will. They are doing this in a city because each man, there, can supply someone else with at least one thing he might want. A city is from a certain point of view a place where proximate satisfaction for almost every order of need or desire is immediately to be had for the asking: you clap your hands, whistle, beckon to the proper person.
If the nature of a city is such that it makes it possible for men to satisfy one another’s needs directly and speedily in its streets and market places and its cafes, it follows that it is better for the city to satisfy needs that already exist and to provide for these well, than for it to create artificial needs in order to dispose of new objects, while neglecting to fulfill men’s ordinary needs properly. Or, a city that ignores half of men’s needs and desires, and concentrates on only one aspect of life, say the commercial, to the exclusion of the esthetic, the moral, etc., is a poor kind of city.
It is the of the nature of a city to attempt to satisfy every class of need. Also, a city where large numbers of people are deprived of even a poor imitation of certain kinds of satisfactions, esthetic or religious or something of the sort, is a failure as cities go, because it is also of the nature of the city to try and provide some sort of satisfaction for everybody’s needs.
I can only conclude that a city in which simple needs for everybody are more easily satisfied, in which even the poor have the chance of getting and enjoying more and more of the things that are not essential to base existence, like amusements, etc., and in which more kinds of needs in general are satisfied in more different kinds of ways with less trouble for everybody, that city is better than one where the food is bad for everybody except the rich, where there are only one or two standardised kinds of amusements, where religion is neglected, where more than half of the houses are ugly.
Havana is a thoroughly successful city, it is a good city, a real city. There is a profusion of everything in it, immediately accessible, and, to some extent accessible to everybody. (57-59)
Thomas Merton | The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton