Loneliness and the city

As the great poet Michelle Branch once said, “so busy out there/so lonely in there/ and all you wanted was somebody who cared.” To be lonely in a crowd of people is almost a cliche of the city. Similarly, to be lonely on the internet is to somehow miss the internet. After all, the internet is at once both the great divider and uniter of us all. This feeling of loneliness goes against our intuition of what a city is. Cities in our minds are bustling places. While people talk about the isolating feeling about being in crowd, there is also something to be said about the built environment that can either heighten or tamper down on feelings of loneliness.

To start with, I want define loneliness. Loneliness is a feeling of isolation that can exist with or without people. This loneliness therefore is not entirely based on spatial relations, rather a perception of your space. For example, people who are thinking of traveling alone often worry about feeling lonely, despite the fact that these cities have huge populations.Loneliness is much more of concern when you have time as well. If you’re busy, whether with work, family, or simply living it’s difficult to actually have to reflect on your loneliness.

That being said, a city’s built environment affects your perception of loneliness. For example, a financial area that closes by 4 pm. Even though cities are supposedly neutral, it’s easy to see how they can effect our behavior. The simple act of putting up a fence sends the message of community to people inside the boundary and exclusion to people outside the boundary. Cities that have public transportation that close at 6 pm or zoning laws that restrict shops past opening for reasonable hours, all of these effect the way in which people interact with cities. Perhaps nothing is more lonely that walking through a city without people. Cities, therefore, without being a person, dictate our relationships with people. The city strengthens or hinders our relationships and therefore our own sense of loneliness.


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