Move to the City for a Slow Life

Montreal

It’s often thought that cities are buys bustling places where nobody slows down. Sure, the streets are busier and there is more activity, but the city is a slow place for living. Arizona State University researchers looked into the lifestyles of urban dwellers and discovered that they are slower than people who live elsewhere. The slowness is all about when people hit particular moments of life and how they think about the future.

“Our findings are contrary to the notion that crowded places are chaotic and socially problematic,” said Oliver Sng, who led the research while a doctoral student at ASU and who now is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. “People who live in dense places seem to plan for the future more, prefer long-term romantic relationships, get married later in life, have fewer children and invest a lot in each child. They generally adopt an approach to life that values quality over quantity.”

Sng, with ASU Foundation Professor Steven Neuberg and ASU psychology professors Douglas Kenrick and Michael Varnum, used data from nations around the world and the 50 U.S. states to show that population density naturally correlates with these slow life strategies. Then, in a series of experiments (e.g., in which people read about increasing crowdedness or heard sounds of a crowded environment), they found that perceptions of crowdedness cause people to delay gratification and prefer slower, more long-term mating and parenting behaviors.

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The Slow City, The Good Life

Cities are often associated with the hustle and bustle of life and commerce. Whereas the countryside is associated with stillness and slowness. One author, William Powers, decided to see what life is like when you treat the city as a slow place akin to the countryside.

Just like Thoreau, he wrote a book about it. Unlike Thoreau, Powers actually practiced what he preached.

My favorite sanctuaries: Pier 45’s tip, where the West Side Highway fades to a hum; a back seat in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in late afternoon; the High Line, a new park sanctuary created from unused urban infrastructure; a silent, little-touristed third-floor corner of the Met reached via a concealed stairway in the Asian wing (it houses imaginative Chinese decorative arts).

Moongazing on Tar Beach after dinner, we muse on two other urban sanctuaries: Washington Square and Madison Square Parks on warm days, when we love to kick off sandals and lie back to savor that sensual press of our bodies to the Earth. Gravity’s eros. I can feel that attraction now — and it’s mutual, since our bodies exert a tiny gravity on the Earth — as my wife and I touch hands, the Milky Way invisible against Manhattan’s illumination, with only Venus, the moon, and a handful of stars perforating through.

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