Safer, saner cities

city park The more I go through life, the more I find that other people have very different experiences.  But if you’re from middle America, or any major city, much of Nature you’ve seen in your adult life has been through a car window going somewhere else.  And the traditional view of future cities has been a bigger and better version of the concrete jungle, like a bad SimCity where everyone lives in one area, commutes to work in another and goes shopping in a third.

A recent study found that more “walkable” neighborhoods bode well for the elderly, not merely for exercise and physical health, but also for their mental wellbeing.  Specifically,

Berke speculates that walkable neighborhoods might be so important because they promote social connection and reduce isolation, a major predictor of depression. “If people are out walking to destinations, they run into each other”, he says. “And then they talk, or interact, or share ideas”.  He adds that city streets with their shorter blocks, more direct routes, and greater number of intersections—can be more walkable than suburban ones. They also have greater population density, which increases the probability that people meet one another by chance.

This sort of connection between people in a neighborhood is something that has been lost in modern American cities and towns since the rise of the automobile and long-distance commuting became regular.  At least, it’s something that I’ve seen and heard about, but have never actually experienced.  But, with rising gas prices and actual debates going on about changing the way our cities grow, this is something that could impact our perception of futuristic cities.

(via SciTechDaily) (image from Andreas.)

5 thoughts on “Safer, saner cities”

  1. Good point, Ian, but saying and doing are different things. The Midwest, where most cities lack any sort of physical boundaries to growth, just keeps sprawling. My hometown of Indianapolis is a prime example of this. It just keeps developing farmland into suburbs.

    Hoosiers are finally seriously looking at a light rail/tram public transport system in Indianapolis, but no one seems to want to give up their cars. It’s rather maddening for someone who’s lived in cities with working public transit, and sometimes I have to wonder about my compatriots sanity.

  2. Jeremy: I totally agree with you. I moved from a small but sprawled out city in California to NYC several years ago. Although I have recently been giving some thought to moving back west, I have grown so accustomed to public transport that the thought of not being able to get anywhere in the city for $2.00 in under an hour depresses me.

    What worries me here though, is exactly what you point out: that saying and doing are two different things. What this study has “found out” is something that has been said already, in a book that is pretty well known in the architecure/urban planning field. Hopefully this time, further studies will be done to find out what we can do with this information. How can we impliment these findings to actually make our cities better places for everyone to live?

  3. “How can we impliment these findings to actually make our cities better places for everyone to live?”

    That’s the question we should apply to everything that we hold important for our society. Having lived in three countries, I’ve definitely found my hometown wanting in certain aspects. And then the question becomes, do I stay in my hometown and try to change it for what I think is the better, or do I move to a place that already fits my values?

    We can try to vote with our feet, i.e., not moving to a city without public transit and make it known that this is why, which is more or less what I’ve done. But that does nothing for the 2 million or so tooling about in my hometown, wondering why they have to pay for a tram line that initially doesn’t go anywhere near them (although it most certainly could be expanded if people took a liking to it).

    I’ve often thought about abandoning my linguistics dream for one in urban planning, and then I remember that they make even less than academics.

  4. I think it’s really a question of where we find the most motivation. I know if I ever go back to my hometown, I will end up disliking it as much as when I left, and will do little or nothing to effect any kind of positive change, whether personal change or social change. Wherever we will feel most motivated to do something to give our lives meaning is where we should be. Of course, figuring out where that is is not always so easy! =)

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