article in Saturday's Toronto Globe and Mail has disappeared behind a
paywall, but it contains an excerpt from Richard
Florida's new book which I'm sure is widely accessible. The
gist of Florida's argument may already be familiar to many -- the
connection between culture and economy, the importance of what he and others
have called the "creative class" and some of the ingenious indices
that he has tried to use to show these kinds of connections (the "gay
index" and the "bohemian index" for example).
People seem to love Florida's ideas, and I don't find it hard to understand why. People who live in big cities I'm sure would love the argument that "coolification" is not only, well, cool, but also economically rewarding. Also, improving cities using coolification methods would be a lot cheaper than improving schools or public transit, so I can certainly understand why city politicians might hope that his arguments had merit.
The excerpt printed in the Globe on the weekend made the argument that different parts of the country contained concentrations of people with varying degrees of particular personality traits -- neuroticism, conservatism, and so on. This caught my attention. The idea that different types of minds may collect in specific geographical areas led my thoughts on a jolly romp through psychopathology, psychogeography, and eventually of course to space (all roads really do lead to spaces of some kind, don't they?). If this is true, then it would be interesting to know about the causes of such psychic stratification. Do we gravitate to certain places out of historical accident? Are there genetic factors at play? Or, most interesting to me, do different regions, because of the organization of the spaces in them, play a role in building our personalities?
Though it’s a sad example, we’ve known for a long time that there are regional differences in the incidence of schizophrenia. There are many more schizophrenics in cities than in the country, and a slew of interesting findings suggest that there are some causal factors at play. It isn’t that psychotics are attracted to what is found in cities but that cities seem, in some intangible way, to make schizophrenics. Whatever the shapes of streets and houses do to influence structures deep in our brains seems to take place early in life. Children who spend critical early years in cities and then move away are still prone to these increasing rates of schizophrenia. And even if the obvious causal factors like poverty and everything that goes along with it are factored out, city dwellers are still more at risk for psychosis than those who live in the countryside. Even comparisons of different neighbourhoods within cities show marked differences in the incidence of psychosis.
To the extent that we understand this at all, the evidence suggests that the key factor in the aetiology of this kind of schizophrenia may be what has been called “social isolation”, which can be measured in a variety of different ways, some of which connect directly with the shapes of the spaces in which we live.
Space shapes our social interactions. The locations of our homes, their connections and distances to other homes are the most basic bricks and mortar foundations of our social lives. And in turn, our social interactions shape the basic elements of our minds. In extreme cases, such factors can contribute to a measurable degree to the outbreak of serious psychiatric illness, but short of those tragic extremes, it still seems reasonable to suppose that the shapes of our minds mirror the physical geographies that surround them.