Urban Myth


Atlanta calls itself The City Too Busy to Hate. Philadelphia has long been known as The City of Brotherly Love. New York, NY is The City So Nice They Named It Twice.  Are these tag lines an attempt to convince us that cities are not the concrete jungles of our imaginations? Or could the public relations hype actually be true?

In Chicago I witnessed a motorcycle accident in which the biker, who was stopped at a red light, lost her balance and fell face-down.  Badly shaken and bleeding from having knocked out at least one of her teeth, the woman sat crying in the middle of the city street. Her riding companion helped her to the curb and a couple walking on the sidewalk stopped to help.  My friend crossed the street to offer encouraging and calming words to the injured woman. He wanted to ensure that the couple intended to wait with her until the ambulance arrived—not an insignificant wait, though the average response time to a 911 call in various cities is a topic for another discussion.

After the incident, my friend mused about city life, suggesting that it fosters isolation and an unfriendly stance toward one’s neighbors. He wondered whether city people are less likely to help a stranger than their suburban counterparts, asking me, “Did we witness an exception that proves the rule, or has my perception of societal norms been adversely affected by living in Chicago?”

I am not naturally inclined toward cynicism, nor have I personally experienced the breakdown of the social contract between neighbors in the cities in which I have lived.  Still, his question lingers in my mind as I walk the quiet streets of my suburban neighborhood, where people generally drive alone in the climate-controlled comfort of their cars.   My neighbors wave to me as I wait for the traffic to abate so that I can cross to the sidewalk which runs along only one side of the street.

Are city dwellers too busy to be friendly or too busy to care about the persistent urban myth of their social isolation?


Comments (6)

I was actually witness to that accident as well, and I feel that in our suburban streets in the “climate-controlled comfort of [our] cars” we are less likely to reach out. We live isolated lives, do not even know our neighbors, are busy driving to and fro to strip malls, sports practices, etc. Walking in our urban environs would seem to me be more conducive to stopping and offering assistance.
That is my take on the matter.

Yes, Nancy! That’s kind of how I feel about it, too. I wonder, though, if our experience of moving from city to suburbs has colored our perception. As you know, my nostalgia for city life borders on ridiculous. Yet, I do feel that when we live in closer quarters we can’t help but feel less isolation and more togetherness. Waiting for our other friend’s comment, to see if his thoughts have changed or developed since the incident.

I am a Mom of one – with 2 carseats in my car. I like teaching my daughter about socialization in different ways & that sharing the journey can be as educational as the journey itself. She’s excited about going to new places & it turns out she’s learning another type of sharing time in a different way, even those other times when she’s got a baby doll in the carseat, along for the ride.

Nice one Ima! I enjoyed how you didn’t mention me this once…except I just kind of blew that didn’t I.

Shira, the first 2 drafts mentioned you. Then I wisely edited you out of the final draft, as I knew that your prefer anonymity. And yes, you did just blow your cover by commenting!

This post is very useful for me, much appreciated! 🙂

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