The Connection Spectrum
My friend Christine and I were walking around town a few weeks ago mulling things over. She had just come back from a long warm weather vacation and was feeling a little bitter about her return. It was cold. We had to walk to stay warm. That had not been an issue for her in Costa Rica.
She told me about the ex-pat community down there that she had stayed with, how they all seemed so in touch with the natural environment, how they all showed up on the beach at sunset to sit quietly and watch the sun go down. All of them. The whole town.
She felt like she wasn't nearly as in touch with the natural world as they were. But then she started asking them if, having lived down there for a few years, had they learned more about Latin American politics?
"No," they mostly said, "We don't read the newspapers."
That was a tough one for her to take; they had moved to a new country and hadn't bothered to learn a thing about it. It was an entire dissociation from society in exchange for a deep connection to nature. Or maybe the tradeoff wasn't intentional, but nevertheless it happened.
That led me to pull a newly concocted theory out of my ass. It's been gestating for awhile (not in my ass) but it all coalesced somewhere in SoHo while we were walking to Battery Park City.
Here's what I'm thinking.
Everybody in the world needs to feel connected. There are two major types of connection that can satisfy this need: to nature and to people. They are, to a certain extent, mutually exclusive. The more connected you are socially (ie, living in an urban environment), the harder it is to be communing with nature. And vice versa.
Each person can be placed somewhere on that spectrum, and it seems to me that, on the face of it, different personality types can be associated with where one sits on the spectrum. For some people, being in touch with nature satisfies this connection desire most effectively. These people perceive the world in a slower, more deliberate way. They can sit and watch a vista or a flower for long periods without fidgeting. They are observers. They watch and process stimulus at the level at which it is given, delving deeper into the stimulus the slower it is doled out. It is a skill I aspire to master. Others choose to enmesh themselves in the myriad social constructions that fulfill the need to be connected to people: working, clubs, money, whatever. Living in cities, basically, and all the trappings that come with it. These people prefer to live in an environment that overstimulates. They may gripe about it, but they're choosing to live there.
I may be oversimplifying the relationship (it might not be mutually exclusive, for example, but on the gut level it seems to be somewhat like that), but there seems to be some truth to this, no?
The question is, how does this relate to urban design? I'm not pulling too many major revelations, design-wise, from this theory. The only issue that it leads me to tinker with is the design of parks in urban environments. The prevailing wisdom has it that parks should be a refuge from the overstimulation of the city. But the people that choose to live in the city are capable, even prefer, higher levels of stimulation. What level of stimulation is appropriate in parks, then? Do you give people what they think they want? What they are used to? Less?
I'll have to think more about this.


I'm Famous!
Er, my
apartment is, anyway. A friend of mine who writes for ApartmentTherapy.com did a piece reviewing the artists' loft I live in in Williamsburg. Enjoy.


I went to the Cooper Hewitt Museum a few weeks ago during the blizzard. We trudged across Central Park in white out conditions and into the opulent Museum, exhausted before we even began looking around. We were happy to find a small greenhouse with palm trees and padded benches on the east side of the building, allowing us to lie down comfortably amid the tropical plants and look up at the falling snowflakes.
The exhibit we intended to see was called Art [insert equals sign with a diagonal slash through it] Design, and was about finding the delineating line between fine art and product design. The pieces were mostly furniture designed by fine artists and for the most part were not much to look at. They easily could have been from an Ikea catologue. But there were quotes from the artists along the walls, and I found those to be the meat of the exhibit. I didn't have a notepad with me so I can only paraphrase them.
The first:
To all those who claim that art has to function, I ask: how many people in this world walk around thinking that God looks exactly like the image on the roof of the Sistine Chapel? There is a purpose to that.
The second is more of a brain toy, but one that I keep turning over in my head:
There is a strange flip flop between the creation of art and design and the use of art and design. To create good art, it is best to leave your brain behind and act intuitively. To create good design, one must use all of their intellect and anticipate use, users, situations, etc. However, the opposite is true at the other end. To use products, it is all intuition. Pick it up and use it as it seems to want to be used - a good product will not require instructions at all. However, to appreciate art, you must bring all your intellect and thought with you and be present in every way possible.

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