If you live in a city, you probably feel pretty smug about it. A lower risk of mortality compared to rural life will do that, as will all those polysexual raves you go to. And sure, you could probably guess that certain aspects of city living aren’t overly awesome for your well-being — the air pollution, the gritty tap water, the buses that are constantly running you down. But there are ways urban areas can damage your physical, mental, and emotional health that you’ve probably never even considered. Things like …
Soil And Old Paint Cause Rampant Lead Poisoning
Flint, Michigan doesn’t usually find itself making headlines for good reasons. Of late, it’s found itself in the national consciousness for its brown water and high levels of lead pollution. Not that the rest of us are necessarily any better off.
The truth is, if you’re living in an urban area, odds are pretty good you’ve been exposed to unsafe levels of lead. Research by the Center For Disease Control shows “over 40 percent of the states that reported lead test results in 2014 have higher rates of lead poisoning among children than Flint.” And the good news doesn’t stop there. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to lead causes irreversible and significant behavioral and developmental problems in children that affect them throughout their lives. Long-term, this means communities will have to meet “the rising demand for special education and juvenile corrections programs that will emerge once lead is translated into reduced IQs, shortened attention spans, and greater incidences of violence.” Basically, we’re poisoning an entire generation of children into being violent, brain-damaged adults, like a whole new crop of Roman emperors.
How are we consuming all this lead, you ask? Well, lead doesn’t break down, so all the rich, delicious lead formerly used in things like gasoline and paint has stubbornly remained in the environment, seeping into the soil and water supplies and just contaminating everything. Those living in urban environments are more likely to come in contact with these contaminated materials (because cities have more cars and more buildings), meaning it’s us city dwellers who bear the brunt of this risk.
Noisy City Life Can Destroy Your Mental And Physical Health
There’s a reason why pastoral life has long been associated with peace and relaxation: city life can literally drive you crazy. According to research, “The risk for anxiety disorders is 21 percent higher for people from the city, who also have a 39 percent increase for mood disorders. In addition, the incidence for schizophrenia is almost doubled for individuals who are born and brought up in cities.” Basically, if you live within walking distance of a light rail station, there’s a good chance you’re going to start staying in every night and filling your home with stacks of old newspapers before too long.
Discovering why urban life is so freaking horrible for our mental health is the subject of extensive research. But there are some good theories. For starters, stress and fear cause your amygdala to be more active. Normally, this activity is regulated by your pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC if you’re nasty), but every once in a while, someone up there falls asleep at the wheel and forgets to tell your amygdala to chill out when it gets too active. This disconnect is seen most often in adults living in cities, and is particularly pronounced in those who also lived in urban environments as children. Also, this lack of communication between the amygdala and the pACC is often present in those with schizophrenia, who – once again – are usually city-dwellers. The city is a concrete monster that feeds on your psyche.
Another factor is how city life affects dopamine production. Dopamine is released in our brains when something significant happens, good or bad. When your brain is subjected to too much stimulus (such as what you would experience in the crowded, fast-paced environment of a city), dopamine levels increase and your brain starts blowing things wildly out of proportion, causing you to react with maximum emotion regardless of whether or not that reaction is appropriate. Still another factor is the concept of “loneliness in crowds.” When we’re alone in a densely populated area like a city, it can amplify feelings of anxiety and isolation in a way which just doesn’t seem to happen in rural areas with much lower populations. In the country, you just feel the good old-fashioned loneliness of actually being the only human for miles in any direction.
Tiny Dwellings Can Lead To Psychological Problems
From tiny houses to micro apartments, small living spaces are having a bit of a moment in the sun. And if you happen to enjoy your urbanite existence in a dwelling the size of a postage stamp, then good for you. Unfortunately, it’s probably not cut out to be a long-term relationship.
Once reality sets in, your home-sweet-sardine-can may well become an added source of stress in your life. Almost every normal activity involves extra steps, like pulling down a Murphy bed before you can sleep, or removing the winter clothes you stashed in your oven before you can turn it on. Over time, these little bits add up, until you eventually stop doing these tasks altogether and resign yourself to eating graham crackers for dinner every night in a permanent nest of dirty clothing.
Furthermore, studies also show that crowding stress increases rates of both substance abuse and domestic violence. And other research has established that crowding stress leads to psychological distress, and that the effects of crowding worsen over time. These effects related to residential overcrowding were found to mirror those of institutionalized populations. In other words, living in a tiny space makes you start to feel like a prisoner.
In short, when so much focus is given to the function and utility of a living area, very little room is left for “identity space,” or, room for activities tied to our interests and personality. Failing to make room for things like “hobbies” or “friends” can result in health problems and unhappiness, even depression. So yeah, that studio apartment / linen closet you found on Craigslist might be saving you some money or allowing you to live in a great location, but you’re effectively moving into the tiniest possible human enclosure at a rotten alien zoo.
Urban Street Canyons Concentrate Pollution
Cityscapes can have a certain amount of beauty, what with their skylines and high-rise lined streets creating those picturesque concrete canyons. Unfortunately, as with these other factors listed here, those are trying to kill you.
Air gets trapped and recirculated in these canyons, preventing fresh air from reaching the street where schmucks like us wander about. Even worse, this recycled air picks up all the dust and pollution from cars, food trucks, dead rats, dead rats inside food trucks, and whatever else, so the air that’s circulating is full of concentrated pollutants and particulate, just waiting for you to take a deep breath.
Studies show that these inner-city corridors can increase pollutant exposure to levels 1,000 times higher than other urban settings, increasing the risk of things like heart disease, asthma, chronic bronchitis, pre-term birth, low birth weight, and cancer. It’s like Death is throwing his flatulence in your face every time you walk downtown to catch a bus or get a bagel.
And speaking of those odorous food trucks …
Food Trucks Serve Up Pollution Along With Grub
Food trucks are delicious, aromatic, greasy staples of city life, and there are few urban areas left without a line or two of food carts during a weekday lunch hour. You already knew these were killing you; all that cheese and sauce-y meat isn’t doing anyone’s heart any favors. But you probably didn’t know that along with your arteries, these trucks are also damaging the environment.
According to New York’s Department Of Health And Mental Hygiene, “One street cart grilling meat over charcoal for a day sends as much particulate matter into the air as a diesel truck driving 3,500 miles, the distance from New York to Denver and back.” So basically, if you were ever thinking about owning your own Philly steak truck, you might as well fire a rocket into the sun and drown a panda in acid.
Since around 2,000 New Yorkers die every year just from smog pollution and soot, the city is looking at ways to reduce the damage being done by the trucks, such as installing solar panels and plugging trucks directly into the electrical grid. Pretty much anything is preferable to belching out hundreds of separate clouds of carbon dioxide and burning charcoal.