Stress and the city, part 2

Michael Lewyn's picture
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Not long ago, I posted on what makes some cities more stressful than others. (See http://www.planetizen.com/node/40441 ). In that post, I remarked that the ideal objective indicia of stress (resident surveys on crime, illness, etc.) often do not exist for most cities.

It occurred to me that it might be useful to talk about more subjective indicators- if only to see if other people think about the same things that I think about. I have lived in ten cities since graduating from law school 23 years ago (not counting Toronto, where I have lived for a grand total of two weeks). By far, Miami was the most stressful of those cities, with Atlanta a distant second; the two small towns I have lived in (Carbondale, Illinois and Fort Smith, Arkansas) the least. The other cities I have lived in (St. Louis, Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Washington, and Philadelphia) have been somewhere in between.

What made Miami so awful for me?

*The combination of traffic congestion and car dependence. I find nasty traffic to be stressful, and I find having to drive in such nasty traffic to be even more so. To a much greater extent than any other city I have lived in, Miami combined rough traffic with public transit that was inadequate to my needs. Atlanta has even more extensive traffic; however, for most of my time in Atlanta, I did not have to drive every day. Washington, by contrast, has traffic even worse than Miami or Atlanta- but since I did not own a car I was insulated from this problem. At the other end of the spectrum, in Carbondale I could walk from one end of town to the other in two hours- truly a commuter's ideal.

*Crime, or more precisely the perception of crime. In Miami, I lived a few blocks from the Brickell subway stop. But rightly or wrongly, I did not feel safe walking from that subway to my apartment after dark – which in turn meant that when I worked late, I had to drive through the heavy traffic mentioned above. By contrast, in Carbondale and Fort Smith I worried very little about crime. In the "in between" big cities, crime was obviously higher than in Carbondale or Fort Smith- but I thought that most of the areas that I walked through on a regular basis were safer than downtown Miami seemed to be in the early 1990s. Having said that, I emphasize that my stress came from the perception of crime: I have no idea whether, statistically speaking, the area around the Brickell subway stop was really more dangerous than my neighborhoods in other cities.

Of course, my experience teaches me that congestion, crime, and car dependence are important. But also, it teaches me that it is impossible to generalize about a city being stressful for everyone. For example, if I had lived in a distant Washington suburb and had to drive to the city (or even to a Metro stop) I would have experienced Washington as a very stressful place. Conversely, if my Miami job had been closer to my apartment, I might have viewed Miami a bit more positively.

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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Factors Causing Stress in the City

For me, center city Philadelphia was stressful for the following reasons:
-inescapable air and noise pollution from buses, cars and trucks
-hostile attitude by drivers towards pedestrians and bicyclists
-sexual street harrassment on a regular basis throughout the summer, on both streets and in parks
-crime, that included having my credit card and bicycle stolen
-lack of strong sense of neighborhood cohesion/sense of community

Ditto for Washington, DC re the air and noise pollution from buses, cars and trucks.

Smaller cities I have lived in proved better on all fronts.

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