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How Cities Hurt Your Brain
February 17, 2009 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Recent research has found that living in a city may be bad for your brain. Compared with natural settings, cities over-stimulate us and impair our memory and cognitive functions.
posted by jon_hansen (84 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whereas a suburban life can lead to car accidents, obesity, and boredom.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:43 AM on February 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


I don't get it.
posted by jonmc at 9:46 AM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Very true...despite what the research says, I find city life very stimulating.
posted by jon_hansen at 9:47 AM on February 17, 2009


WHAT THE FUCK YOU SAYIN'!! WHO...WHAT?..WHERE AM I???
posted by applemeat at 9:47 AM on February 17, 2009


Ah, "related research," is there anything you haven't shown?
posted by enn at 9:48 AM on February 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


Oh, I always wondered why Deliverance was set in a city.
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Plus, I find it hilarious that the "city" that this is set in is Ann Arbor. Perhaps it was all the candle boutiques and luxury pet care that triggered these negative feelings, as certainly there's no real city there.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:52 AM on February 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


So for the past 10 millennia, every since there were enough humans to create cities, we have been doing it rong.
posted by nax at 9:55 AM on February 17, 2009


Suburban sprawl and physical and mental health:

The most obvious mechanism through which a sprawling environment affects health is as an opportunity structure that constrains the amount of physical activity that people routinely exert on a daily basis. Physical activity has a general salutary effect on health, as well as directly influencing a variety of diseases and symptoms, including hypertension,[29. and 30.] arthritis [31.] and abdominal complaints such as from constipation [32.] or menstrual cramps, [33.] and even headaches and migraines. [34.] Sprawl also leads to more air pollution, which may explain our finding of significantly higher rates of trouble breathing from emphysema and COPD, [35. and 36.] and may, in part, explain the higher rate of headaches in more sprawling cities. [37. and 38. C. Paz, Some consequences of ozone exposure on health. Arch Med Res 28 (1997), pp. 163–170. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (4)38.]

Living in suburbs may be bad for your body. See how it's done?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:56 AM on February 17, 2009


Actually, it's, "Suburban scumbags, they don't care/They just get fat and dye their hair."
posted by The Straightener at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Clinging bitterly to shotguns and religion, on the other hand, results in a marked improvement in cognition.
posted by scratch at 9:58 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I quite like that this comes right after my "Cornhole" post.
posted by billysumday at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2009


Did anyone read to the end of the article? The last two paragraphs talked about how this stress on our cognitive functions makes us more creative. What I'm getting from this is "add a little bit more green space, but don't change much else." Nothing too drastic, just make the cities a little nicer, but keep them densely packed.
posted by Hactar at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2009


The reflexive hate of suburbs on MetaFilter is pretty hilarious. Wait, not hilarious.

When I'm in "the city" I find I'm disoriented and over-stimulated, for sure. Blame my bucolic mind if you will, but I need physical space to think and BE.
posted by DU at 10:05 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did anyone read to the end of the article?

Recent studies show that urban living can also lead to knee-jerk defensiveness and predictable snark.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:06 AM on February 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


CAN'T SLEEP, CITY WILL EAT ME.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:07 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sure, I read the whole thing. It's hardly news, though, that green space is good. Haven't we known this since, like, the early 70s and the growth (ouch) of urban community gardens?
posted by scratch at 10:08 AM on February 17, 2009


I love how you guys only apparently recognize City, Suburbs and Deliverance.
posted by RedEmma at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2009 [34 favorites]


Yes, yes, but what researcher can explain why my hair is long, my feet are hard and gritty, and I'm almost dead from breathing air pollution?
posted by box at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


One of the important points of the article, though, is that urban life can be mitigated through good urban planning and well-thought-out city ordinances.

Personally, my life would be significantly improved if NYC were to pass a law requiring all jackhammers to have some sort of noise-muffling apparatus.

Also, I think that car alarms should be made illegal. Thieves know how to disable them. They don't function as a deterrent. All they do is go off by accident and bother the living crap out of me. Why the hell don't people just get lojacks instead? I'd imagine they're far more effective.

Finally, they REALLY REALLY NEED to start enforcing "no honking" laws. I used to live on a one-lane, one-way street in the LES. Whenever a cab had to let someone off on my street, would they ever turn the corner and let off their fare on the (two lane) cross street? Hell no. They'd just stop on my street and take their PRECIOUS time, whilst everyone backed up behind them would honk their horns ineffectually, waking up the neighbors and increasing everybody's stress loads.

And bass systems? Don't even get me started.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's like that time in the 1990's when one study would come out and say that birth control pills cause cancer, and then another one would come out the next week and say they prevent cancer. Then they alternated back an forth for a few months and the news media would pick "BIRTH CONTROL PILLS = BAD" or "BIRTH CONTROL PILLS = GOOD" based on the week and you could never quite get the pros and cons in a single news segment.

I feel like it's "CITIES = BAD" week.
posted by Alison at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2009


I want to be stereotyped. I want to be classified.
posted by klangklangston at 10:12 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


And we're still superior to you bumpkins? Wow. Imagine how amazing we'd be if we lived with the yokels!
posted by aswego at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2009


I live in a city AND I AM NOT OVERSTIMULATED!

WHAT?!?! I'M NOT SHOUTING!!
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2009


The article isn't anti-city. It's anti-poorly-planned city:

Studies have found that even a relatively paltry patch of nature can confer benefits. In the late 1990s, Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, began interviewing female residents in the Robert Taylor Homes, a massive housing project on the South Side of Chicago.


Kuo and her colleagues compared women randomly assigned to various apartments. Some had a view of nothing but concrete sprawl, the blacktop of parking lots and basketball courts. Others looked out on grassy courtyards filled with trees and flowerbeds. Kuo then measured the two groups on a variety of tasks, from basic tests of attention to surveys that looked at how the women were handling major life challenges. She found that living in an apartment with a view of greenery led to significant improvements in every category.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:14 AM on February 17, 2009


(One of the important points of the article, though, is that urban life can be mitigated through good urban planning and well-thought-out city ordinances) should be (One of the important points of the article, though, is that some of the problems of urban life can be mitigated through good urban planning and well-thought-out city ordinances
posted by Afroblanco at 10:14 AM on February 17, 2009


I have never heard anyone accuse Edmonton of being over-stimulating but I suspect it has been bad for my brain.
posted by mazola at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2009


New York's all right if you like saxophones.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


When I'm in "the city" I find I'm disoriented and over-stimulated, for sure. Blame my bucolic mind if you will, but I need physical space to think and BE.
posted by DU at 6:05 PM on February 17 [+] [!]


If you read the article, I think you can conclude that most city dwellers agree. I'm a city dweller who loves the excitement of the city but also *needs* the public parks, the gardens, the trips out to the country. So, no, its not about city vs. suburbs. Its about how to have that powerful stimulation that the city provides but the time and space to process all of it.

The discussion, at least in the article, is about finding and providing the right balance.
posted by vacapinta at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2009


Atom Eyes, stop ruining everyone's fun by reading the article.
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:18 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you've ever been in a rust belt city with negative population growth, you will discover that cities can also be bad for your brain while being understimulating.
posted by ardgedee at 10:24 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there were any cross-cultural studies done? I had an urban planning class in college where we looked at "high density housing" in the community. The normal trend in the community is for a house on a quarter acre of land, give or take a few hundred square feet. High density meant two-story duplexes with common open areas, including a micro-park with play structures. The class was in almost total agreement that it felt too clustered. The one dissenter grew up in a dense city in Taiwan, where his family lived above their store below, and there was little to no park space in the city. He felt this development was too open.

From that, I took that our concepts of space come from what we grow up with. If you're raised on a ranch and the nearest house is a couple miles away, the suburbs might feel claustrophobic to you. For someone who grew up on the 15th story of a 20 story building in New York City, the suburbs may feel too open, and might be too quiet, too.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:31 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the researchers are underestimating the ability of humans to mentally tune out the familiar. Novel and densely structured areas are stressful because they are unfamiliar and difficult to navigate visually. Most of the visual and auditory noise can be autofiltered out as long as it is predictable. During my morning commute I am not mentally jolted by thoughts of "WHOA!! BAGEL STAND!! IPODS!". I wouldn't notice if zombies were eating the Bagel Stand staff (a la Shawn of the Dead).
posted by benzenedream at 10:37 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


[x] A thousand things I want to say to you
[x] A thousand faces all shining bright
[x] And those golden faces are under 25
[x] A thousand men in uniforms
[x] Air pollution
[x] No solution
[x] To find a job is like a haystack needle
[x] Where he lives they don't use colored people
[x] Four walls that ain't so pretty
[x] Love and affection
[_]The chores.
[x]The stores.
[_]Fresh air.
[x]Times Square
[x]Sugar
[x]Prunes
[x]Cheese
[x]Cats/Traps
[_] Good old barley and grain
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Everything is bad for you.
posted by notswedish at 10:51 AM on February 17, 2009


I like being able to sit in my little grove of maples and crape myrtles and read.

You guys can have my share of the city. All twenty square feet of it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:51 AM on February 17, 2009


Let's not forget that most places in the US we think of as "crowded" would be paradises of space and freedom for many people elsewhere in the world. I mean, hell. Ann Arbor is a "crowded" city? Population density is 1,629.9 people per km^2. This is compared to real, actual crowded cities like Tokyo (5,847 /km²), Mexico City (5,950/km^2), NYC (10,482/km^2), Mumbai (21,880 /km^2), Kolkata (42,057 /km^2)... do some urban crowding research there then come back and try again.

Christ, even Detroit comes in higher than Ann Arbor (2,647/km^2) and that's after half the population left the friggin' state.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:58 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ya'll can keep your greenspace. I grew up in a mix of rural and suburban, and can't understand why people enjoy it. I love hearing people in my apartment building at 3 in the morning. I love the pavement under my feet and the smell of a cluster of Asian restaurants in the air. I love how there's things to do and places to go, how there's other people, how political currents exist beyond Republicanism and know-nothing libertarianism.

You know how Coruscant in Star Wars is supposed to be a hell of endless urbanization? How the city in Blade Runner is supposed to be claustrophobic and awful? They look like heaven to me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:03 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how you guys only apparently recognize City, Suburbs and Deliverance.

Will somebody please think of the CHUDs?
posted by ryoshu at 11:15 AM on February 17, 2009


Pope Guilty: ....and you're in bloomington, indiana?

I thought the city in Blade Runner was fictitious. Then I went to Hong Kong. Heck, any of the largest Asian cities, really.
posted by vacapinta at 11:15 AM on February 17, 2009


People create better in crowds.
posted by pracowity at 11:16 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's compare the mental functions involved in a walk down a city street to a walk in the woods:

City:
Step, step, step, avoid person, step, wait at cross walk, light changes, step, step...

Woods:
Step, avoid stump, step, OMG was that a bird - no, step, maintain balance on uneven surface, step, avoid branch, OMG was that a snake - no, step...

So, I wonder how the city is somehow more stimulating?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:22 AM on February 17, 2009



Ya'll can keep your greenspace. I grew up in a mix of rural and suburban, and can't understand why people enjoy it. I love hearing people in my apartment building at 3 in the morning. I love the pavement under my feet and the smell of a cluster of Asian restaurants in the air. I love how there's things to do and places to go, how there's other people, how political currents exist beyond Republicanism and know-nothing libertarianism.


Um, don't you live in Bloomington?
posted by nasreddin at 11:25 AM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, I wonder how the city is somehow more stimulating?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:22 PM on February 17


One word: chuds.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:32 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I do, and it's a damn sight better than anywhere I'd lived previously. It's still too small, and still too green... but this is a step on the way to better things.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:33 AM on February 17, 2009


OMG is Bloomington green! I love how my stop sign there was consumed by morning glories within the first 3 weeks of spring. And it's wet! There is water just sitting around! Not doing anything! An embarassment of fresh water riches.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:39 AM on February 17, 2009


In other news, living in a good environment is good for you.
posted by junesix at 11:45 AM on February 17, 2009


New York is twice as dense as Tokyo? I find that mildly surprising. I had always thought of Tokyo as being the most elbow-to-elbow city in the first world.

I do know from those stats that I never want to even see Kolkata. 4x the density of New York? 8x the density of Tokyo? Nothing for me there. No thanks.

My home town is about 400/km^2, but for the entire county it drops to 150/km^2. So yeah, 40k/km^2 is downright frightening to me.

And Pope Guilty, Coruscant I might could see, given the setting, but if you found Blade Runner Los Angeles to be inviting, I think you may want to seek some sort of therapy.

...and still too green... but this is a step on the way to better things.

That's one of the most absurd things I've ever heard. You can't be serious.

I would think even the most ardent Urban Commando would think any large city could benefit from a little more grass and trees. FFS they grow them on rooftops.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:45 AM on February 17, 2009


The reflexive hate of suburbs on MetaFilter is pretty hilarious. Wait, not hilarious.

Yeah. As someone who grew up in 'the burbs' (although I tend to find that people's definition of that word here is a lot more narrow than what I see as burbs), went to college in Ann Arbor (which is absolutely NOT a city or even urban for christ's sake) and has lived in three major metropolitan areas subsequently, I always laugh when the lolsuburbanites crap comes out.
posted by spicynuts at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how there's things to do and places to go, how there's other people, how political currents exist beyond Republicanism and know-nothing libertarianism.

I don't understand this attitude. As I said above, I grew up in the burbs (although your phrase 'mix of rural and suburban' is probably a better description) and we had a shit load of things to do and places to go as well as a decent array of political/intellectual diversity. Contrast this with the neighborhood in Gowanus, Brooklyn I lived in for 8 years where not a single old school inhabitant had ever been out of Brooklyn, Manhattan or Staten Island, with the exception of trips to Florida once or twice, had extremely racist and homophobic outlooks, distrusted all strangers or 'college assholes', were vehemently warhawk republicans, and pretty much would laugh at you if you said you were going to a museum. I'll take my suburban environment over that, thanks very much.
posted by spicynuts at 11:55 AM on February 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think this was covered in The Invisibles, no?
posted by freebird at 11:57 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've grown up in rural settings and in sprawling horrible suburbs; my experience of the people in them has been almost identical to spicynuts' experiences in Brooklyn, and my experiences in larger cities (SF, Chicago, and Seattle) has been far more positive; even if there were still assholes present, asshole wasn't a universal.

I don't derive any pleasure from "natural" settings; they're mostly uncomfortable and aesthetically unappealing. Maybe once I've spent more time than I have away from them, I'll see the value, but for now all I see is ugly, wasted space that could be put to better use than being mowed every week. I'm glad there's nature and trees and grass and all; everybody else is welcome to all of it that they like. I'm just sick of being surrounded by it.

You can have the country and burbs; enjoy them. I don't.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:03 PM on February 17, 2009


I love how threads like this invariable become a list of what various users do and do not prefer.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:08 PM on February 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


This isn't exactly "news". Back in the 1870-1914 period when mass urbanization was first occurring in Europe and the US, people regularly complained of symptoms caused by urban living. Lots of studies were done back then and the conclusions are no different today - too much noise, speed, lack of grounding and community lead to all sorts of negative physiological effects. There is a reason suburbs are so popular, in particular as places to raise children.

Just to clarify, this doesn't mean everyone who lives in a city has problems, or all cities are bad, or suburbs can't have the same problems, or rural areas don't have problems also, etc.. which really has nothing to do with the FPP.
posted by stbalbach at 12:13 PM on February 17, 2009


I always wanted to be a city-slicker now I are one.
posted by pianomover at 12:19 PM on February 17, 2009


You want a city that hurts the brain? You should see where my dad's been un-living for the past few millenia.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:20 PM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


The 1876 painting L'Absinthe by Edgar Degas sums up the new sense of urban living - beyond the obvious moral lesson of the dangers of absinthe drinking (which started becoming a problem among urban dwellers around this time).. note the absence of legs on the tables, giving the feeling of rootlessness, lack of grounding, floating, yet tired and haggled, disconnected, alienated. As John Merriman says of this period:
Doctors diagnosed more cases of hypochondria, "melancholy", and hysteria, paralyzing nervous disorders that many blamed on the complexities of modern urban life, which seemed to be overwhelming the nervous system. In particular, neurasthenia seemed to be a sign of the times, with its symptoms of extreme sensitivty to light and noise (two characteristics of urban life), fatigue, worry, and digestive disorders.
posted by stbalbach at 12:24 PM on February 17, 2009


This study goes against my opinions, and therefore is wrong.
posted by !Jim at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2009


I had no opinion of green areas in urban environments until recently, when they tore down an abandoned structure between the building I work in and a new one that was constructed about a quarter mile away. Rather than put up another office, the people who own the area turned the entire in-between space into a park.

It's actually pretty fantastic. As you are walking from your work to the parking lot, you see the river, and pass a big green area with a bunch of ducks and geese and some trees.

It is really kind of a refreshing way to start and end the day. Which is weird because I live far enough from the city that I see plenty of green and trees and birds in my commute to work, I think it's just the unexpectedness of the location that makes it more special and causes a greater impact.
posted by quin at 12:35 PM on February 17, 2009


spicynuts: you moved to a neighborhood named after a whale-killing river of glowing shit and you were surprised to find that the "old school" inhabitants were maybe a little unpleasant?

I grew up in the suburbs of Houston (around the 1960 area, for any Houstonians in the thread) and then later in a very suburban-type small Oklahoma city. It just occurred to me while reading this thread that I guess I'm now living in the 'burbs again for the first time in my adult life - at least suburban probably by the standards here. Alexandria. I spend every day in the district, so I hadn't really thought about it, but damned if I'm not living in a giant apartment complex with a pool and a gym and a little keychain with a button to open up the gate for my car. Guess I gotta give up my urban hipster cred now.

But the truth is, I like it out here. And the weirdest thing may be that I like it because of my car. I know all the problems with car culture and I'm not about to try to defend it - I know my little sedan is a necessary evil at best - but having lived ten years without a car, I forgot just how much they allow you your own time for reflection and listening to whatever music you want at whatever volume you want (I've always found headphones and earbuds to be supremely uncomfortable) and just taking your own way to get where you're going. It's been unbelievably freeing (and my grades have improved dramatically as well, but I don't know what to credit that to). So if Alexandria counts as a suburb of DC, then I guess I'm anecdotally proving the article right. Especially since DC's urban planning - based around Pierre L'Enfant trying to insert as many masonic symbols as possible into the map, and the mistaken assumption that the fucking Anacostia would be navally important - is some of the worst of any major U.S. city.

Still, as soon as school is done with I'll be moving back to Brooklyn post-haste. It is better. It is more stimulating. It's just... home. It pulses with energy and excitement and it also has a shitload of greenspace and I can get rid of this car and start acting like a conscientious human being once again. I get that it ain't going to be like that for everyone, but I can't imagine not living the rest of my life there. It's just the perfect mix of everything for me.

But Gowanus... jeesus, spicynuts! Eight years? I could barely deal with going out there a couple hours a week for band practice.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:41 PM on February 17, 2009


Doctor! My brain hurts!
posted by not_on_display at 12:42 PM on February 17, 2009


There's quite a bit that exists between Major Metropolis and Deliverance that isn't necessarily suburban. I grew in one example. I currently live in another.
posted by thivaia at 12:47 PM on February 17, 2009


I am willing to accept this idea because then it would be ALL HOUSTON'S FAULT I've been getting dumber since I moved here. I'm comfortable with that.
posted by Neofelis at 12:54 PM on February 17, 2009


I was thinking about it on the bus, and it occurs to me that most people here seem to think that "suburb" means "city smaller than Chicago". This is necessarily going to lead to some of the absurd statements being made in this thread.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:54 PM on February 17, 2009


Maybe this was my problem. I lived in Center City Philly for a year and in DC for 3 years, and I always felt on edge and closed in. I moved back to rural PA and immediately felt back to normal. I'm at the stage now where if I can see another house from my front porch, things are getting too crowded.
posted by JasonM at 1:07 PM on February 17, 2009


All they do is go off by accident and bother the living crap out of me.

At least something is working the way it's supposed to!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:12 PM on February 17, 2009


I've had the Green Acres theme song as a persistent earworm for 25+ years now.
posted by autodidact at 1:49 PM on February 17, 2009


most people here seem to think that "suburb" means "city smaller than Chicago"

Suburbs are just low-density cities. I have a brother that lives in the midst of the strip malls and freeways of Long Island, NY. It kills me whenever he tells me that he could "never, ever live in a city", when that is exactly where he lives. It's just spread out a bit more.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:03 PM on February 17, 2009


I love stuff like this on Mefi. So many of you come off as defensive about any little thing that might be a down side to city life. I live in a small little town in the country, and I like things about it, but there are things about it that suck. I love some cities, and hate others with a passion. Any place is going to have its pros and cons, who gives a fuck if cities over-stimulate us and impair our memory and cognitive functions, here I am in the woods and I can remember every boring second but hey my cognitive funk-tions are doing fine.
posted by nola at 2:10 PM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Yeah. As someone who grew up in 'the burbs' (although I tend to find that people's definition of that word here is a lot more narrow than what I see as burbs), went to college in Ann Arbor (which is absolutely NOT a city or even urban for christ's sake)"

I grew up in Ann Arbor, and was involved in local politics, especially development, in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor's a lot of things, but a real city it ain't. It's a college town, and one that becomes less diverse, less urban and less dense every year. And I just know that this study is going to be used by the NIMBYcrats to slow down the necessary development that Ann Arbor has foolishly tried to shirk for years.

I'm sorry, this is probably inside baseball for the vast majority of you, but there's been a recurring proposal for a greenway in Ann Arbor for a couple years now, and that silliness means that it's vastly harder to get, say, businesses enough room to expand, enough density for infrastructure improvements to be viable, and affordable housing to be built. All because there's a powerful group of Ann Arborites who really want to live in the mythical land of Ann Arbour, at the expense of the city as a whole.
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 PM on February 17, 2009


Especially since DC's urban planning - based around Pierre L'Enfant trying to insert as many masonic symbols as possible into the map, and the mistaken assumption that the fucking Anacostia would be navally important - is some of the worst of any major U.S. city.

The L'Enfant plan is the least of the Washington's problems. Two-thirds of the population leave for the suburbs at the end of each workday, and many of those who do live here know they will only stay for a few years at most. The result: a majority of people occupying the city don't give a fuck about the place.
posted by exogenous at 2:43 PM on February 17, 2009


City:
Step, step, step, avoid person, step, wait at cross walk, light changes, step, step...


Dude, you've got it so wrong. Here's my best rendering of how a walk down the sidewalk in my city really is:

*Steps out of apartment with short, fat, blind dog in tow. Shuts door.* Hey, they’ve pulled the carpet up. Green and brown
linoleum— wow, looks like this building was always kind of a shitbox. That’s oddly comforting.

*Gives blind dog’s leash a gentle, guiding tug.* Wonder what those cut-outs are along the walls. They look like purpose-built rodent conduit.

*Walks through foyer and down steps.* Hmm, the outgoing mailbox is still lying on the floor. Hope they fix that soon. Wonder who did that. Ripping your own mailbox off the wall’s a truly pathetic way of going postal.

*Steps through wrought-iron gate at base of steps, and out onto sidewalk.* Wow, that’s a great skirt on that girl. It kind of looks like Agent X's stuff. Is it? I still haven’t looked at Agent X’s fall collection for ’08. Is she still even designing clothes, or is she completely focused on burlesque these days? Must consult the internet-- Oh, someone’s shouting across the street. Mental health? Meth? Domestic violence? Alcohol? Survey says. . . mental health. Oh, yeah. That guy’s a frequent flier. Hey, wait, is he the one they’re looking for in that awful assault at the bus station? No, no, that’s a different guy.

*Step, step.* Looks like they’re trying to rent out space in the parking lot under the building where that arson happened. Man, they did not secure that building well at all. That graffiti looks like it’s on the insides of the windows. Tarps flapping like loose sails over burnt-out windows—some kind of fucked-over residential pirate ship just about to be scuttled. Hmm. Wonder if we should try to poke around in there—UE right in our own backyards, doncha’ know—of course, that structure’s probably dangerous as hell, what with the fire damage. Sad, but I think we're all too old for that kind of stupid.

*Step, step.* Hey, concert fliers. A Gun that Shoots Knives—hmm. Haven’t heard their stuff, but I really like their poster. Steel Tigers of Death and Android Hero at The Funhouse, with God Made Me the Raven. That’s a must-see. Looks like it’s happening next Saturday. Wonder why I haven’t heard about this already. Maybe I missed the e-mail. Probably, I missed the e-mail. Probably, it’s on our Google calendar already and I’m just dense-- OMG Rachid Taha’s coming! No way! Must tell the spouse!

*Step, step. Dog pulls at leash.* Uck! Dead pigeon! “Midge, leave it! Leave it!” God, campylobacter and pointy little rib bones. How could a dog resist? “Leave it, Midge! Good leave it!

*Pats disgusting little canine. Step, step.* Wonder if I can get the dog to pee on the grating instead of right in the middle of the sidewalk. Got to sort of gently steer her without actually distracting her—and—yesss! Score! You may address me as ‘Urban Superdogmom, Esq.’

*Step, step, stop at crosswalk.* Street drunks in big pack sighted across the street. Lessee—which ones are these? There’s that huge guy who’s always trying to sell the braided sweetgrass. He’s basically chill. Couple other guys I don’t think I’ve ever seen-- oh, and the guy with the cat named ‘Rehab’ that rides around on his shoulder sometimes. He’s actually kind of cool. On balance this pack of street drunks appears—nominal! Yeah, alright. Crossing the street in their direction with the hypervigilant blind dog should be fine.

*Light changes. Step, step.* “Har, har, no you can’t take my dog to Chinatown. She’s a killer, man. She’s like a short, fat James Bond. Her drool’s a lethal weapon. Har, har. Dude, I just bought some sweetgrass from you last week. No, it’s cool. Look, I gotta go, the light’s changing.” *Dog starts barking in completely random direction.* “Dude, see this ring? I’m married. Yeah, really married. Plus the light’s red now. Yeah, God bless you too.” Ok. That could have been lots worse. I need a break. Let’s see, what’s in the window at Wall of Sound? Clara Rockmore. Awesome, but I have that album. Erkin Koray— man, good on Jeff for getting half the neighborhood into Turkish psychedelia. What else? Animal Collective. Blind Lemon Jefferson. Congotronics. NASA. Merzbow. Cool stuff, but nothing that I absolutely have to have right now.

*Step, step. Checks outdoor tables of coffee shop for friends/ awful exes/ potential dog hazards.* Hey, there’s Matt! Sweet, I haven’t seen him since the last Steel Tigers show. Still working his way through Anna Karenina, looks like. I’ll have to ask him how he’s liking it. Oh, and check this out-- he’s talking to the girl with the cool skirt! Slider-boy! “Matt! Hey there, guy! How’re things going. . . .
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:58 PM on February 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


It would be awesome if all six to seven billion human beings could each live on a pristine acre of beautiful woodland, with rolling hills and pastoral splendor, bordered somehow by a lovely white sand beach.

But we can't.

There are only so many places with climate and geography suited well to year round human habitation on this tiny rock. And much of that we need to grow food or, if we weren't such selfish assholes, preserve for natural habitats for wildlife.

Soon we can't even afford to have one quarter of the population living living outside of urban environments without permanently damaging the vital organs of the planet. If you're not making food, securing/managing natural resources, or serving those people that are, and still want to consider your self a "good" steward of the earth, then you have no business living outside of metropolitan areas. It's simply a aesthetic conceit and it's another consumptive selfish lifestyle. You may as well light a tire fire in your yard.

Look. Density is efficiency.

However we could easily organize our cities much better. With much more green space, cleaner transportation, tighter controls on visual and auditory noise— and then have the best of both worlds. Problem is people don't want to pay for it. Not when they can just scam out into the 'burbs and fuck up more land. And when that starts to bleed and turn grey? Hell. They think they can pack up and move farther out and fuck up someplace new.

We could make our cities work for everybody if we could stop this idiotic habit of only thinking of "ME! ME! ME!".
posted by tkchrist at 7:28 PM on February 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


I lived in Manhattan for several years (as a graduate student, in a rather basic dormitory) and still dream about going back, though I probably won't be able to afford to live in Manhattan unless le trahison des financiers lowers the cost of housing somewhat.

The only thing I don't miss is the smelliness, especially in summer, which several greengrocers and an alleyway (where street people peed) contributed to near where I lived. I figured that the urban density just concentrated the odors. I also don't miss the subway stations being steam baths in summer.
posted by bad grammar at 8:08 PM on February 17, 2009


Yonaxas: You'd have positively hated the Kowloon Walled City then, with its peak population density of about 1,923,077/km². :-)
posted by the cydonian at 10:42 PM on February 17, 2009


tkchrist has it dead-on: we need to live primarily in cities in order for the human race to continue surviving and thriving. There's the ecological factor.

I think the mental factor could best be dealt with by curtailing the rampant transience of the modern lifestyle. Mind you, my viewpoint on this is probably exacerbated by living in NY and DC for my entire adult life, but transience kills any concept of community, and stable community allows for compartmentalization of expertise, because of the trust involved in actually knowing who your neighbors are. This is something small towns are MUCH better at than cities are, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that small towns are likely to see much less population overturn than big cities are. True, it's also much more plausible to know who all of the People Worth Knowing are in a small town, but the same is true of any urban neighborhood. The trouble comes along when people determine that it's not worth the time or energy because either they or their neighbors aren't going to be around long enough.

Who knows where the chips will fall after the current financial crisis comes to some sort of conclusion, but if one of the lessons we come out with is that a decent job is worth holding onto, rather than jumping across the country at every slightly better thing that comes along, then we might be able to get to know our neighbors again, which I'd guess will be better for our mental health and happiness in the long run.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:50 PM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just for anyone wondering, central Tokyo (the 23 special wards) has a density of 14,151 persons/km². New York City's is 10,452/km², Paris' 20,560/km², London's 4,761/km², and HK Island & Kowloon is 35,700/km².
posted by armage at 11:45 PM on February 17, 2009


I dunno I find that people in cities tend to be more sophisticated because there is a greater chance for your mind to be stimulated!
posted by PeterParker at 11:54 PM on February 17, 2009


Yonaxas: You'd have positively hated the Kowloon Walled City then, with its peak population density of about 1,923,077/km². :-)
posted by the cydonian at 12:42 AM on February 18


You couldn't be more right. That looks absolutely terrifying.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:19 AM on February 18, 2009


To highlight thats whats important is population density, not total population, San Francisco has a pop. density of 6,600 /km². Thats about as much as NYC and more than London!

But the TOTAL pop. of San Francisco is only about 800k. Its not even among the top 10 most populous cities in the US. Indianapolis has more people. But Indianapolis is very spread out. Geography is at work here, just like it is in Manhattan and Hong Kong. SF sits at the end of a peninsula.

We can zoom in on NY and London though.

Pop density of Westminster (London): 10,899 /km2
Pop density of Manhattan (NYC): 27,256 /km2
posted by vacapinta at 7:40 AM on February 18, 2009


When I was younger I was inspired by city living. The people and sites and sounds and most of my writing and poetry I wrote on the bus or at the bus stop or while sitting in noisy coffee shops and bars. But after 10 years I realized my writing was slipping and the city it self began to feel stale to me. I find it all so overwhelming I spend most of my day in the house so I don't have to deal with all the traffic and noise and people and lights. I fucking hate the city mostly because so much of what is packed into this tiny place seems so useless. For instance there are seven bus stops on the route from that down town area to my house. I can walk that same route in 20 min but the bus stops 7 fucking times. In the area where I work there were 3 cell phone shops that opened and closed down in the span of a year (and this was long before the financial drama) and constant noise till about 1:AM and that quiet only lasts about 4 hours till the buss start running again.

Like I said I was at one point inspired but the city and there are things I still love about it, like that fact all the employees of the Chinese food restaurants in my are speak fluent Spanish better than me and I'm half Cuban and I live near a park witch helps a bit to know that there are some trees and grass near by, but it is all the same I know for a fact that I could never live the rest of my life here.
posted by SheMulp AKA Plus 1 at 9:32 AM on February 18, 2009


I love some cities, and hate others with a passion. Any place is going to have its pros and cons, who gives a fuck if cities over-stimulate us and impair our memory and cognitive functions, here I am in the woods and I can remember every boring second but hey my cognitive funk-tions are doing fine.
posted by nola at 5:10 PM on February 17


I care! I care because I am one the those people who wants to live to to my full potential mentally ,psychically, emotionally, and living in a place that is bombarding my brain with constant unnecessary data is fucking frustrating and even depressing at times. And especially now that there is a financial crisis going on the people are feeling a bit helpless and in my case defensive. So I'm sorry I don't mean to be snippy but my brain is feeling damaged today.
posted by SheMulp AKA Plus 1 at 9:54 AM on February 18, 2009


How do you live to your full potential when there's barely anyone around to interact with?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:16 AM on February 18, 2009


How do you live to your full potential when there's barely anyone around to interact with?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:16 PM on February 18


Just to clarify my idea of "living to full potential" is purely personal. I know many people who live in cities and would never give it up for the world and they live happy and fulfilled lives. But for me personal I don't need all this hustle and bustle and honestly it makes me feel like a crazy person sometimes. I feel so distracted and I can't seem to focus. When I say I want to live to my full potential I mean I would like to use more energy on things that matter to me and not have to constantly filter out tons of useless crap...

I would rather know a few people very well rather than barely know hundreds of people. I would rather jog a mile along a country road passing nothing but grass and cows rather than cars, people, bikes, stop lights and toxic exhaust fumes every few blocks. I would rather sleep uninterrupted through the night to the sound of crickets and wake up feeling refreshed rather than plugging my ears to block out the sound of college parties, passing car stereo systems, and fire trucks. I would rather the view from my windows be a garden or a field or a lake rather than my neighbors blinds...

I can think of many other ways that my life would be improved if I lived in a less populated area.
posted by SheMulp AKA Plus 1 at 5:04 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


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