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The city and our mind


Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory — the crowded streets, the crushing density of people — also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the “concentration of social interactions” that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists.

The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge — one of the densest cities in America — contributes to its success as a creative center. One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation. The key, then, is to find ways to mitigate the psychological damage of the metropolis while still preserving its unique benefits.

1 Comment

  1. James

    But also more crime due to the diminishing space between people (and not just physical space). There’s something both oddly perverse (considering the actual amount of free-space on the planet) yet strangely hypnotic about new modern cities- sometimes they appear to be nothing more than parts of its designed functions, so you often get the impression, while strolling, particularly after normal business hours of an essentially ghost city illumed by the shadows of the vacant ultra high spec office complexes. During other moments, the very same physical same can be occupied by the crowd or a particular type of crowd that somehow becomes coloured by the actual functions of a given district in the city, which again, like the progress of the sun around the buildings throughout the day, can literally “throw out” or cast a different reflection which can be perceived almost as a new phenomenon, say in the late afternoon, or in a different season.

    Baudalaire, I think was one of the first great modern poets who seemed to be able to both discern and capture this (negative?) aura in his poetry.