Learning a City: Walking Streets and Talking to Locals

Years ago I had the chance to travel in China with a long-time family friend. This gentleman is much older than me (30+ years) and has traveled the world extensively.

The best way to get to know a place is to walk the streets.

That’s sounds like a self-evident statement, but as we did just that—wandered around the neighborhoods and back-streets of Shanghai, Beijing and other cities—I started understand what knowing a city, not just seeing it actually meant. Specifically, we rubbed shoulders with people simply doing life. We noticed which restaurants were crowded (the best way to find a good meal in a new place), how children interacted with each other and their parents, what people were reading, wearing, listening to and the differences between younger and older generations of the same people. The cultural fiber of a city is often made up of the day-to-day way that locals do life.

As we’ve launched The Iron Yard in 9 new markets this year, I’ve taken that lesson to heart. Research on marketing options in cities is certainly helpful, but some of the best insights I’ve gleaned have come from simply walking around, talking to random people, going to meetups and riding public transportation.

I love the process of learning a city—working hard to see life through someone else’s eyes is a truly revealing endeavor.

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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

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