Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder. The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. (…)

How much does it matter what message a city sends? Empirically, the answer seems to be: a lot. You might think that if you had enough strength of mind to do great things, you'd be able to transcend your environment. Where you live should make at most a couple percent difference. But if you look at the historical evidence, it seems to matter more than that. Most people who did great things were clumped together in a few places where that sort of thing was done at the time. (…)

It can be interesting to eavesdrop on people, but is good quality eavesdropping so important that it would affect where you chose to live? (…) The conversations you overhear tell you what sort of people you're among. No matter how determined you are, it's hard not to be influenced by the people around you. It's not so much that you do whatever a city expects of you, but that you get discouraged when no one around you cares about the same things you do. (…)

Unless you're sure what you want to do and where the leading center for it is, your best bet is probably to try living in several places when you're young. You can never tell what message a city sends till you live there, or even whether it still sends one. (…)

http://paulgraham.com/cities.html

(picture https://www.deviantart.com/ciril/art/Alone-in-the-crowd-9459714)