Is the City Hurting Your Brain?

A Tree Can Fix It

city_treeDo you ever feel like it is harder to keep your concentration and think simply while in the big city? Do you discover a noticeable difference in the solace of solitude and quiet, regarding how your brain functions? Chances are that at some point, you have felt very overwhelmed by a small task, say crossing the street at rush-hour. The possibility of thinking about anything else at that moment is near zero.

Scientists are starting to look at what the city does to your brain. And it’s not quite as uplifting as thinking about the cosmopolitan, “mass cultural exchange and osmosis that can only occur in a city.” (That is a direct quote from a friend of mine who argued that this article doesn’t pay due diligence to that unique aspect of the city.) Essentially, researchers are starting to understand that human brain activity is compromised in urban environments. Just a few minutes on a crowded street makes the brain less able to remember certain things and also can trigger a loss of self-control. I’m sure we all have a related battle story.

While this write up tends to focus on the limitations of the brain, it also discusses the limitations of the city scape. The stark lack of natural spaces only serves to magnify this collective loss of brain activity, as natural landscapes tend to calm people and create a stronger ability to focus. These spaces don’t over stimulate our brains, which is basically what the city and urban lifestyles are constantly doing. And there is evidence that immersion in nature can have a restorative effect.

This is not to say that we should cover the concrete jungle and dismantle the city. Society’s most creative and innovative scientific and cultural advancements were (and still are) born in the city. But people are starting to recognize that the quality of life for urbanites can be significantly higher with the introduction of more urban open spaces. And we can assume that the quality of what they produce and contribute to society will be of higher caliber as well. Finally, our oft quoted fact that the world is more than 50% urban at this point means that these things matter more than ever now.

More trees, functioning brains, better cities. It seems rather straightforward to me.


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