Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Secret Lives of Cities

At the very beginning of his essay, Yi-Fu Tuan very briefly discusses the spirit and personalities of places - how people seem to assign a soul to a place that affects them deeply in some way. As soon as I read that, I was reminded of something I'd read a couple of years ago from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of graphic novels:

Perhaps a city is a living thing. Each city has its own personality, after all.

Los Angeles is not Vienna. London is not Moscow. Chicago is not Paris. Each city is a collection of lives and buildings and it has its own personality.

So, if a city has a personality, maybe it also has a soul. Maybe it dreams.

I do not fear cities sleeping, stretched out unconscious around their rivers and estuaries, like cats in the moonlight. Sleeping cities are tame and harmless things.

What I fear...is that one day the cities will waken. That some day the cities will rise.

Aside from the obvious fantasy of this (Sandman is after all an urban fantasy series), what do we think of this idea that physical places have personality and soul? Why do you think that we assign what is essentially a congregation of buildings and monuments the qualities of a living thing?

1 comment:

Chris said...

It seems to me that cities, as social constructions, express the personality of a lifeworld or culture as it has developed over time, just as the personality of an individual is a complex social construction that develops over time. Cities can be read as narratives of the history of ideas of a particular culture. So I completely agree that cities have the personality and soul that their makers, operating within a unifying cultural context, impart to them. They are statements of the human mind--for better or worse.