Mark Lamster | Essays

This City Is Driving Me Nuts

According to a new study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature, the brain structures of urbanites respond differently to stressful conditions than those from rural or suburban areas. The study, conducted by a team from the University of Heidelberg, was undertaken to help explain the greater incidence of schizophrenia in urban dwellers. (The bigger the city, the greater the incidence.) Subjects were given a math test, and as they tried to complete it, were told that they were falling behind and fairing poorly. In subjects who were born and raised in urban areas, this activated areas of the brain, the cingulate cortex and the amygdala, that process emotion, in particular stress. This was not the case for those raised in the country.  

So, yes, we urbanites are prone to stress. What the study doesn't explain is why. Is it the physical plant of the city? Do the towers and crammed-in buildings give us anxiety? Is it a lack of "nature"? Is it crappy public transportation systems and traffic jams, trash piled on corners, and too small apartments that cost too much? Or are we allergic to ourselves? Is it not the physical city but all those other people, too close and competing for the same prizes, that drive us all a little insane. Probably all of it.

What, if anything, can architecture and design do to mitigate our stressful lives? Our buildings and cities are becoming more and more sustainable, with more parkland and open space. That's a start. But I suspect that, as much as we can and should do, it will never be enough. Stress is just something we must accept in exchange for the benefits of the city.

What that study doesn't tell us is what parts of the brain are fulfilled by urban living. Also, what parts of the stomach. It's nice to live in a place where you can get a decent chinese meal at two a.m. Anyway, misery loves company.

Comments [2]

Stress is not a test performance. It is the rattle of over ride of human knowledge of learned dignity. When you learned of the black plague and pox and that much knowledge upgrade. All have a entry way in human slavery of High handed common like malfunction. Knowledge works better with good will to human beings not good to your tools toys beasts of owned dependence to spread your humanity eye. When humanity is staving animals will show this first they have no choice but to be owned by the raised hand. Stress is stress when the land is not in balance not a country or city thing. Cloud dwellers might think they rain down purer water but the lines of gases give traces of the earth toxins to there lungs. I could go on with this but I'm here today

hey Kathleen, it looks like you have been researching alot about this, I like your post...I recently been reading a book from Robert Louv about 'the nature principle' it brings up interesting theories...I personally dont think its the city that brings stress, it lies in out inability to deal with so many 'distractions' or events at one time. If we continue to build our education, and to start observing ourselves in the environment we are in, our likes and dislikes, we will begin to Act like we should to create this balance. We, who live in the city, are part of the issues that create stress. Don't give up, and if we understand that we will be here lifetime after lifetime after lifetime, we will begin to treat this world and ourselves better.

Jobs | April 12