How cities produce creativity — Jonah Lehrer

8 May

From Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Beast:

Jonah Lehrer believes that cities “pry the mind open” by forcing us “to interact with strangers and with the strange”: [my emphasis]

I think we need to ensure that we don’t surrender too much of our cities to the loveliness of upscale boutiques, fancy espresso bars and high-end restaurants. Money in a metropolis typically buys isolation – we get a little peace of mind and our very own parking space – but the creativity of a city depends on our constantly mixing and mingling.

That said, I have no doubt that the best cities will always maintain a few Low Road neighborhoods. The Greenwich Village described by Jacobs ceased to exist decades ago – longshoreman no longer loiter in the bars alongside poets – but New York City has continued to supply its poor creators with a wealth of other spaces. There was Soho and then Soho became a mall. Williamsburg was hip until it was too hip. Nevertheless, there are still so many corners left in Chinatown and Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx. When people start complaining that all the suffering artists in Staten Island are being evicted by yuppies, I’ll start to worry. Until then, I have little doubt that our cities will manage to survive the problem of too many rich people.

(‘Tableaux d’intimité’ by Anne-Laure Maison via Notcot)

To take this on a slight tangent, I am subjected to constant, tiring accusations that my cosmopolitanism is a projection of American multi-culturalism on our part of the world and its ‘naturally’ homogeneous and ‘eternally’ existent nations.  The tragic and ignorant un-historicalness of this position (which regularly entails my being told that I don’t know my history, aside from the secondary question of why American multi-culturalism — not as the woosy, politically correct and ideologically empty posture that it’s become, but as an existent on-the-ground, socio-cultural fact — is a bad thing) is irritating because heterogeneity, that which pries open the mind “by forcing us to interact with strangers and with the strange,”  is what always characterized human existence, especially in our part of the world, on both the city and larger state level.  It’s the forced homogenization of the nation-state and its capacity to make us retroactively forget the past’s plurality that is just a blip on history’s screen.


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