With the onset of the Industrial Revolution came the rapid move to cities and the formation of major urban centers. With time, these brought economic success, technological innovation, and a food surplus like never before.
But the question remains, did life get better after the move to cities? Obviously, many technological advances today would not have been possible without them. Still, what about the ways human life and health are affected in the concrete jungle?
Of course, life in a big city is exciting and fast-paced—there is entertainment to suit every style, taste, and culture. Many modern cities are international destinations filled with a great ethnic and racial variety, in addition to linguistic, culinary, and artistic splendor.
Today, the city is an enticing destination for young people looking to further their education and establish a well-resourced career. Others flock to the museums, sports events, cultural centers, and restaurants.
Highlighted below are some of the benefits and drawbacks of living in cities to help further understand how an advent that has contributed so much to human progress can also bring with it so many negative effects.
Benefits of City Life
Unlike rural areas, cities rely on efficient logistical planning for accessibility and quick transportation of people, goods, and services. This includes quality roads, efficient public transportation, and easy access to organized city districts dedicated to stores, restaurants, and businesses. The city organization makes organizing projects from political campaigns to musical festivals an achievable reality.
From education to employment, there are many more opportunities in cities. In the country, occupations relate to local supply and demand, while the interconnected nature of cities can cause local initiatives to become global realities.
In the case of emergencies or serious health complications, hospitals and walk-in clinics in cities are much more accessible, better-staffed, and well-resourced than ones in less populated areas.
Since the time of the early cities Eridu and Jericho, the city center has been the central hub for culture. This includes science and philosophy, arts, sports events, etc.
Drawbacks of City Life
Some elements of life in modern cities are set up in a way that makes for an unhealthy environment. For example, recent evidence has found that the structure of modern cities and suburbs has contributed to the increase in U.S. obesity rates.
Some features of environments encourage physical activity. Other features like cul de sacs, few parks, and cities designed around the use of cars discourage physical activity, resulting in increased risk for obesity.1
Most notably, many cities are designed around the constant use of cars, creating lack of incentive to walk. Additionally, the purpose of these drives is often to steer individuals towards fast food restaurants or workplaces. The combination of these factors negatively contributes to physical and mental health, resulting in unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, and stress.
At the same time, the towering skyscrapers and miles of pavement leave little room for trees and other plants, leaving humans to breathe in polluted city air rather than beneficial chemical compounds released into the air by trees and plants.
Additionally, mental health, in general, has received a lot of attention lately, and statistically, life in the city does seem to make people more unhappy. With less person-to-person interaction and greater reliance on technology, it seems that people are more connected but more disconnected than ever before. Given that information, it makes sense that individuals who live farther out from the city are more likely to be more healthy and happy.
In recent years, much of the research conducted about cities focus on the rising number of health conditions that seem to stem from city life. These studies are conducted with the goal of producing suitable, sustainable solutions to improve health and quality of life in urban zones.
Modern society has access to technological innovations that were unheard of a generation ago. The unexpected consequence has been a severe sort of “culture shock,” as modern lifestyles have taken on a transient aspect.
“Technostress” is the latest member of the range of stress-related conditions linked to life in cities.2 It is a subcategory of stress that has been defined as the stress directly or indirectly caused by the use of technology.
Today, technostress is a well-documented condition characterized by an extraordinary difficulty adapting to the fast pace of technological advancements.3
Studies have shown that the way in which a city grows outward into the surrounding areas affects the amounts of physical activity and levels of obesity in the urban population. While it seems that greater urban sprawl result in more traffic fatalities, poor health, low physical activity and obesity, the exact reasons are still not clear.
However, districts that combine industrial, commercial, and residential areas promote more physical activity than those dedicated to residential housing alone. Still, more evidence is needed to provide urban planners with the ideal solutions for a more physically-fit urban population.4
Stress and Anxiety
While the excitement is high, there may be something potentially dangerous about the fast-paced “city never sleeps” mentality that surrounds urban life. Most importantly, the modern city scene is nothing like anything our ancestors have seen or experienced––and the progress never stops, so we only keep moving forward faster and faster.
The data shows that perhaps there is an issue with this fast-paced society such that it leads to an increase in stress and anxiety rates in cities. In fact, it has been estimated that living in a city increases the risks of anxiety disorders by 21 percent and mood disorders by 39 percent.5
Dr. Mazda Adli goes on to suggest that the more densely populated the city, the higher the chance for mental illnesses.6
Reduces Plant Life
As seen in the evolutionary timeline, plant life is important for the well-being of an ecosystem. As cities expand, developers switch out trees and plants for skyscrapers and highways.
In addition to changing the landscape to one filled with blocks of grey rather than a forest of green, the decreased plant life in cities strips the air of the beneficial secondary metabolites, primarily terpenes, that plants produce.
Some researchers go on to suggest that city dwellers may be suffering from terpene deficiency. Because humans evolved in the presence of these compounds, researchers suggest that they continue to be required for homeostasis, meaning that decreased terpene levels in the environment may have negative health consequences.7