Yes, that's right. Every place we saw in Rohan, from the village Saruman's hordes were burning at the start of The Two Towers to the Golden Hall and all the connected rooms, looked like someplace where ordinary people could live and work. We don't actually see the gardens being tended nor the food being prepared as we do in the Shire, but it's easy to believe that these things are taking place just offscreen -- that the stables where Brego is kept have to be cleaned, that Eowyn has a chamberpot where she can run and puke after Grima puts his hands on her. Edoras manages to look regal yet earthy, a place where a King can relate to his subjects; this is true both when Theoden is under Saruman's spell and after he's lost a huge number of subjects at Helms Deep. I know exactly how far the ordinary person must walk in Edoras to see flowers blooming on a hillside.
Minas Tirith looks wonderful, on first view, from a distance, like a fairy tale castle high on a hill, but it leaves me as cold as its stones. I can't begin to guess where the people collected those flowers they strewed at the feet of the soldiers riding to Osgiliath -- another city of big cold stones, whose only warmth I associate with Boromir's presence from the extended TTT. In the case of the latter it's easier to blame the orcs, but no matter how terrible things were in Gondor under Denethor, that doesn't explain why a city with pristine banners and scrubbed-clean carvings doesn't have one flowerpot that looks real, let alone one child drinking from a decorated earthenware cup. The impression I get of Minas Tirith even at Aragorn's coronation is of a place where a King will sit high on a great big throne and everyone else will mill around like pretty ants, kneeling when he kneels, and even so I don't have a clue where the laundry might be done, the meat smoked, the apples planted.
I can't write about Aragorn, Arwen, Faramir or Eowyn in that city. It isn't that I had any sense of how Minas Tirith should have looked; my visual imagination is quite limited, and it's always been easy for me to accept a film's casting of characters because it's very rare for me to have a rigid sense myself of how anyone should look. There are cases where I can say it just seems wrong, like Emma Thompson in Branagh's Henry V as a very young, virginal French princess -- I love her, but that casting was ridiculous, I felt like Branagh had just insisted on having his wife in there -- but the whole "David Thewlis isn't hot enough to be Remus Lupin" argument always struck me as ridiculous too. So Minas Tirith is not a case for me where something doesn't look the way I imagined it, as some people seem to have with aspects of the Harry Potter films. Minas Tirith just doesn't look right to me. Even the long-awaited Houses of Healing are too cold and dark; I'm not sure I'd heal there even with Faramir smiling at me.
I've no idea whether this makes any sense, but it was crystal clear to me as soon as I read the comment about Elfreth's Alley. Tolkien might have imagined a place like it for men to walk, but we never saw anything like that in Gondor. Where does a city like Minas Tirith hide its pubs, its schools, its birdfeeders? Not in the sun...not anyplace I saw near that impossibly cold stone facade. My Aragorn would have shriveled up and died in that place.