The science of conviviality
The great sociologist Erving Goffman suggested that life is a series of performances in which we are all continually managing the impression we give other people. If this is so, then public spaces function like a stage in the same way that our own homes and living rooms do. Architecture, landscaping, the dimensions of the stage and the other actors around us all offer cues about how we should perform and how we should treat one another.
A man might urinate in a graffiti-covered alleyway, but he would not dream of doing so in the manicured news outside an old age folks’ home. He would be more likely to offer a kindness in an environment where he felt he was among family or friends, or being watched, than in some greasy back alley. In Goffman’s world, these are conscious calculated responses to the stage setting.
Montgomery, Charles. Happy City. Penguin Randomhouse, 2013
Happy City is such a dorky book. It’s dense and has all the appearances of serious niche interest. In all honesty I only picked it up because it was recommended by Mr. Money Mustache… of whom I am not a disciple or, truth be told, not even really a fan (I am exceptionally weary of internet personas and all manner of gurus)… still, whimsically I bought this book and I have really enjoyed it since.
The sub-title is ‘Transforming our lives through urban design’. Its all very deeply utopian and pollyanna-esque. But deep down, under the layer cake of fortified disdain I nurture a tiny spark for humanity. And really, our cities (and perhaps more broadly our environment) say so much about what and maybe who we are as a species.
This might be a topic that only the ‘privileged’ ruminate. Although I don’t understand why this should be… (probably because of the mind block that comes standard with ones silver spoon). I mean academically I understand this as a sort of Maslow-vian pyramid, where if one is not completely satisfying ones lower order needs one can’t move onto the higher order ones.
I take the opportunity to glare at my neighbors unkempt verge. Maybe if I go over there and give him a hug he will mow his fucken grass.
Or you know I could stick a sharp piece of metal between his ribs and get new neighbors…
Apparently it depends largely on whether I approach him from an ascending or descending altitude…
Observing shoppers at a mall, University of North Carolina researchers found that twice as many people stepping off a rising escalator donated to a Salvation Army fund-raiser than did people people stepping off a descending escalator. They also found that people who had just watched film clips of views from an airplane window were much more cooperative in computer games than people who had watched clips showing scenes from a car window. The same relationship between altitude and altruism appeared in several experiments. Researchers suggest that being high up, or the mere act of ascending, reminds us of lofty ways of thinking and behaving.
Now you know.