Do you hate living in the city? Or do you live in the country and you’re glad you don’t live in the city? Even though country living may be seen as the ideal by some, the truth is, the United States is becoming more urban each decade. There has been a decline in rural population taking place since at least the 1960’s (https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2017/september/rural-areas-show-overall-population-decline-and-shifting-regional-patterns-of-population-change/).
In an earlier posting we considered the influence of technology upon the social bonds of community. Now, we examine the impact of urban planning on the bonds of community.
Cities don’t have to be seen as concrete jungles or unpleasant and crime ridden. In fact many cities around the world have worked to overcome the this reputation. As Odd Fellows we are to help the distressed, and many of our distressed citizens are to be found despondent and despairing in urban areas. It’s important to take time to study urban areas so the IOOF can better help people. Cities aren’t just affected by the people in them–cities also reflect and create society and thus effect people. In other words, the city itself can create circumstances that lead to a distressed populace.
French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre believes that cities are shaped by and serve the wealthy and powerful corporations rather than the middle and lower classes. Many downtown areas are full of skyscrapers, malls, four lane streets, all built to facilitate the relationship between wealth and commerce. In other areas of cities, housing developments and apartment buildings are constructed based upon a design presented by wealthy land and real estate developers. So, the working classes that may live in those areas have no say in urban design, even though the design affects how working class residents relate to their community and the larger city.
Most modern cities have become dominated by private spaces like shopping malls and office buildings built for commerce. And although we may think of a mall or shopping center as a public space, it is not–they are private ones built to create a feeling of community–but not a real one– to facilitate commerce.
In urban areas there has been a loss of public space where people can meet on equal footing with others and achieve their psychological and social needs. This is why it is important to have city parks and sidewalks (For more on sidewalks see Jane Jacobs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_and_Life_of_Great_American_Cities). Without public spaces, or when these areas are restricted, some studies have shown that depression, anxiety, crime, homelessness, social isolation, and poverty can be made worse.
Instead, cities should be places that encourage freedom of expression, play, and creativity. They should pulse with life and be vibrant expressions of human freedom and creativity, where people can play and explore their creative and artistic needs while discovering themselves. Ordinary people should participate in creating space that reflects their interests and this becomes a way to help deal with major social issues.
To sum up:
Lefebvre believed that cities are built and designed by the wealthy with no concern or input from the middle and working class. This in turn negatively effects (isolation, depression, anxiety, etc.) the lives of ordinary people who lack public spaces and places where they can experience and enjoy each other on an equal footing.
This is just one of many ideas about what may contribute to problems in our cities.
Scott Moye is an award-winning history educator and collector of Arkansas folklore. He grew up on a cotton farm and is currently a museum worker. Hobbies include: old house restoration, writing, amateur radio, Irish traditional music, archery, craft beer, old spooky movies, and street performance. He is a member of Marshall Lodge #1, in Marshall, Arkansas, and a founder of Heart In Hand Blog. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org