The Where Blog, dedicated to intelligent discourse on urban life, recently posed the following question:
How do people stay sane in crowded cities?
Quoting E.M. Cioran,
Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out every day: massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without destroying each other, without hating each other to death?
We might ask such a question in Tokyo, or New Dehli; in the US, maybe New York. But San Francisco, despite being relatively short on open space for building and (as boon to past real estate transactions) higher in demand than in supply for housing, is not really that crowded. Sure, we’ve all made the dismal, never again mistake of trying to get on the I-80 at rush hour, or the MUNI on the day the Giants are playing (enough orange clothing and pre-game beer consumption to last a lifetime). We’ve been jostled in Union Square during the holidays, or crammed against the rails of the Wharf at the height of tourist season. But those are just poor choices, not evidence of an over-populated city. In fact, there’s a lot of space to live here.
Many of our residential enclaves include rows and rows of homes that have backyards, if not also front yards and side yards. Unlike NY City, we don’t have to go out to Brooklyn to find a family style neighborhood: in our 7 X 7, we have plenty.
Add to that roof decks, public parks, and the beach — it’s a unique metropolis indeed.
But scientists do warn that city life can be hard on the brain. From the Boston Globe:
Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.
So… do San Francisco brains need more quiet space to function?
But isn’t living without culture, diversity, art, conflict, and intellectual stimulation in general, more obstructive than the chaos of urban life?