SF: A City with Room to Grow-up Healthy?


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?
Pic: Biosources.com

8 thoughts on “SF: A City with Room to Grow-up Healthy?

  1. Sf is unique, agreed, though I do feel crazy when I’m in, say, the Tenderloin. I can always get away to the park, or to O. Beach, or to the Presidio.

    Perhaps what keeps the population down is the price of living here?

    1. Corey,

      I totally agree! Crowds bug, but strip malls are the worst. I will say it is nice to have all that parking right in front of where you want to go though.

  2. San Franciscans are not rude, for the most part. We seem to respect each other’s space. That’s been my experience, anyway. Woo!

  3. Whenever I visit SF (I live in NY) I feel like I am in the suburbs at first. The pace and the layout of SF is so different. New York is SF, times 10.

    On that note, I would agree that city life, in a city like NY or Tokyo, can be overwhelming. The borrage of stimuli take up so much sensory activity, the brain is hard pressed to deal with the many demands. I think these effects are temporary though, because the calming is immediate once we return to our own homes, or leave for the country or the beach… and when we get to these places, we have all these ideas and experiences to consider. Our brains are more alive, even in repose mode.

  4. I read the cioran, in its origianl French, and thought to myself: no here is a guy who doesn’t really like people. I mean, Paris? Who doesn;t love Paris. And SF, with its extreme physical beauty, is similar to that European gem. Perhaps he is hinting more at class struggles within cities, but only an ass would try to say that the suburbs don’t include socio-economic classes.

  5. I am not sure cities dull our thinking. If you look at how inventive architects are in using small spaces in crowded places like Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, etc, you’ll see that cities do not necessarily dull our thinking — they actually stimulate our thinking to adapt to our environments and make the best of it.

    On the other hand, I do believe that our environs condition us in certain ways. And sometimes the inertia of living pulls us in a direction we begin to recognize is not right for us. That’s when we change our environments. Perhaps that’s why Picasso left Paris. But it has nothing to do with city vs rural living. Some of us change friends because we recognize we don’t want to hang out with weekend drunks anymore.

    Your last sentence is right – I don’t think it’s city living vs rural living. The fact is one can live a full life wherever one is. One just has to choose to do it.

    Remember Buckaroo Bonzai: Wherever you go, there you are.

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