Charles Landry in this guest post connects the dots between cities and psychology, and calls for a stronger focus on the psychological resilience of cities as safe havens in turbulent times.
In the blink of an eye, in evolutionary terms, cities have risen meteorically to dominate our lives, as have our more nomadic lifestyles. The relentless transformation brought about by large-scale urbanisation and movement of people, goods and money, and a virtualizing world puts increasing demands on our senses, attention, time, our capacity to cope with the strange or different, and our mental state. Highly adaptable as we are, it stretches this ability to the limit and presents a major psychological challenge.
In a constant cycle of influencing and being influenced, the city impacts upon our mind, and our emotional state impacts upon the city with untold effects. It is astonishing that psychology, the study exploring the dynamics of feeling and emotion, has not been taken sufficiently seriously as an urban discipline, not only by psychology itself but also urban decision makers, since it seeks to understand why we act the way we do.
The urbanist Jan Gehl noted acerbically: ‘it is ironic that we know more about the habitat of mountain gorillas than we do about the habitat of people’. Acknowledging the ‘psyche of a city’ could radically shift our understanding of how places work and their potential futures.