The smart survey threw a spotlight on aspects that influence urban joy in Europe. Among the report’s discoveries: Joy is most easily found in dynamic metropolises.
“What do I expect of a city I inhabit? Tarmac, street cleaning, a gate key, air heating, hot water pipes. For coziness, I look to myself.” (Karl Kraus)
Nature has always been smart. Some visitors leaving Berlin’s clubs, stumbling out into the balmy air of the city’s early morning hours, might find it hard to believe their ears – at least those who have some basic ornithological expertise.
Whether deepest Wedding, Treptower Park, or the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery: Berlin is the “capital of nightingales” – hosting a larger population of these songbirds than all of Bavaria, according to biologist estimates. How come?
The answer: the broadest biodiversity is no longer found in clean-cut rural landscapes, but urban environments with all their dirt and chaos, corners and niches. Many metropolises have evolved into bona fide biotopes – with every ruin a potential opportunity. Not just for the local fauna, but also its human counterparts.
Metropolises as recycling machines
There is nothing static about the world’s major metropolises; they undergo a continual recycling process. “Each year, two to three percent of the city are torn down and rebuilt,” states US environmentalist and futurologist Stewart Brand, “that is, the average city experiences complete renewal over the course of fifty years.”
This rate of transformation applies to Europe – conurbations like Los Angeles or the huge Asian boom cities change far more rapidly. After all, cities are the planet’s driving engines: They suck in people and creativity and expel wealth and ideas. Nine out of ten patents are generated in metropolises; new and groundbreaking trends tend to be shaped by tough urban competition.
“Urban areas provide potential for more charity since they (via the multitude of working markets in metropolises) give people the opportunity to build a broader and wider portfolio of different types of capital – and to generate higher earnings from the use of their labor,” according to the World Bank.
At the time of writing, the world witnesses the largest ever migration – not from one nation to the next, but from the countryside to the city. A trend that will not only trigger technological inventions, but also social innovations.
Overcoming obstacles leads to contentedness
Human mobility can be found where these two spheres meet and mingle, prompting the question – investigated as part of an extensive survey on “Urban Joy in Europe” by the city car manufacturer smart – why so many young people are drawn to the city. What causes urban joy – and why?
The surprising result: It is the tackling of obstacles we encounter as part of our everyday lives that generate a sense of contentedness. Those who face the city head-on tend to get more from life.
In a way, this should not surprise us since this phenomenon has proved a constant throughout human history: Young people like to take risks and test their limits. “The city’s allure is mostly down to the promise of development,” states the smart survey. “If you master my challenges, I will make you a hero.”
At the same time, the study also throws a spotlight on the downside of city living: People who can’t quite find a foothold in these urban structures might end up feeling drained and demoralized.
Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog“
Perhaps, we simply need some new ideas for the dark side of the city. And every once in a while, a look to the past might help: Back in the (hippie) days, the above-mentioned Stewart Brand – who lives on a house boat in Sausalito, California – launched his seminal “Whole Earth Catalog,” a thick compendium brimming with a huge range of tools for the survival of a young urban elite that was fed up with the unadulterated consumerism of their parents.
The catalog covered pretty much everything that might prove useful for the new lifestyle, from solar cells to a basic roof garden kit. In line with one of the smart survey’s findings, “just like their residents, metropolises need to keep reinventing themselves to evolve and thus stay alive.” And further on, the survey reveals that “change brings new energies and joy.” All it takes is to stay in motion.
smart magazine wishes all of its readers a happy New Year 2015!
For further results of the smart survey, check out the website.
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