Bicycle Diaries: My wintry city

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My wintry city

love it or
leave it

The day after New Year's, The Boston Globe ran the article, How the city hurts your brain. It's author, Jonah Lehrer, cites the latest research to declare that city life ain't easy.
Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it's long been recognized that city life is exhausting -- that's why Picasso left Paris -- this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.
Really? I just simply love when the social sciences state the obvious. But my biggest beef isn't with green (nostalgia) tinted research like this.
One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain ... fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.
Instead, it's his conclusion. Over the last couple of months, me and my neighbors here in The Windy City have been up to our navels in nature ... very, very frigid nature. Its benefits are not so obvious. Aleksandar Hemon, an author and transplant from Sarajevo, writes in today's NYTimes Op-Ed Section,
Once, on a very cold winter day at a North Side El stop, I saw three or four freezing Chicagoans huddled together under the heating light like newly hatched chickens. It was 30 below zero, with wind chill, the kind of cold that makes your bones hurt because the frozen flesh is beyond the reach of pain. There was closeness in the huddle, but no touching; there was solidarity, but no eye contact. And I realized I, too, could huddle along and partake in the scarce warmth; I was no longer a tourist. At 30 below zero we were all Chicagoans.

Another transplant and longtime Chicagoan once told me that weather extremes were just fine for him. Surving winter's sub-zero lows and summer's sticky highs always gave him a sense of accomplishment. One that's not easliy experienced in other locals. Besides, while we all may be operating at reduced brain power, at least we're all in this together!

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Blogger John Stoner said...

I liked the NYT op-ed piece too. It was interesting to compare the passage on Chicago with the passage on Hawaii.

Hawaii: insular, not just geographically, but socially. You're not Hawaiian until your family has been there for generations. So many pass through.

Chicago: membership by trial. You pass a winter here, shovel a car out of a parking space, huddle with strangers on a frigid el platform, you can call yourself a Chicagoan.

18/1/09 14:35  

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