THE LIVING CITY -or- City on the Edge of Forever

What is the living city?

Many answers have been suggested such as those found in Lewis Mumford's "The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformation and its Prospects" or Jane Jacobs "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". We can find the city not only in art, in music, in film, we can also find the city in our nightly dreams. Every city has a dramatic historical manifold of community rhythms and activities which provide a city with its own unique collective character and tastes. An epic film montage of people's faces, places, ceremonial rituals and narratives builds (or destroys) a city everyday.

These everyday dramatic city rhythms of life and death can be viewed in the activities of diverse of people, institutions and industries such as schools, banks, hospitals, retail stores, neighborhoods and homes (ie. family life). Local knowledge provides the foundation and corner stones of the civic sense of community. Each cities customs marks its citizen's ceremonial rites of passage somewhat differently, think of the changing of the guard in London, England. All these dramatic civic communication rhythms can be found in the dreams of the inhabitants of cities.

"Psyche & the City: A Soul's Guide to the Modern Metropolis" is a book edited by Thomas Singer. The book contains articles written from a Jungian perspective about a variety of cities from around the world. Having visited many of these cities, (although not all them), it was of interest for me that the city which has always been close to my heart was not included.

Having lived and grown up in Toronto, Canada from when I was five until I was twenty, Toronto is still often in my dreams. I live 35 minutes away. An article in the Toronto Star (front page, September 26, 2010) asked, "Give us seven words that describe your Toronto?: What words evoke your city? Let us know and we'll report back on Toronto's core DNA." We can ironically infer that the metaphoric core DNA the reporter is actually looking for is found in people's dreams.

Below is a request for information which was received by the IIDR asking about the nature of "dream cities"?

Norm, American, age 34

My name is Norm and I was wondering if there had ever been or if there is currently a study being done on "dream cities." Both I and my fiancée continually have dreams where we seem to revisit the same streets or hotel, etc., places that we are extremely familiar with, within the dream state.

In one dream I'll revisit the same hotel that I'd been to in past dreams and then other times I walk down the same streets I'd been down in past dreams, etc. My question is, has there ever been a study on taking these recurring places and buildings and trying to recreate a place as I refer to as my "dream city"?

Mr Hagen's Reply; Dream Cities -or- Urban Landscapes and the Visual Image of the City

Kevin Lynch in "The Image of the City," created the concept of "place legibility", which is essentially is the ability with which people understand the layout of a place. For Lynch, to comprehend the layout of a city, people had to create a mental or cognitive map. Cognitive maps of a city are mental representations of what the city contains, and its layout according to the public and the individual.

David Ley, in his PhD dissertation "The Black Inner City as a Frontier Outpost: Images and Behaviour of a North Philadelphia Neighbourhood" (cited in Peter Gould and Rodney White's "Mental Maps"), proposed that one could chart a mental topography of people's urban fears and stress as well as places of safety. This invisible psychological topography allows people to survive and navigate in mentally and physically dangerous environments and places that are human constructions of social reality.

The cognitive map of a city contains an environmental network of psychological paths, districts, nodes, and landmarks. Your own cognitive map includes the streets, hotels, buildings which you are able to navigate (wayfinding) in your dreams. From an artistic perspective this cognitive map provides the aesthetic foundation for urban landscapes. In this context of landscape art, landscape architecture is born. It is this mindscape of the city that we find in our dreams. Today, we can view these city landscapes via live feed from the Internet from New York, London and Moscow.

For the sociologist Georg Simmel "The Metropolis and Mental Life", impressions from metropolitan life can be contrasted by those of rural life. Each city differs in the social rhythms of life and the sensory and mental imagery which psychologically flows more slowly or quickly, more habitually or consciously and with more conformity or deviance. The city street conditions and influences the metropolitan daily rhythms of the metropolis, creating a tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social relationships. From a music perspective the song by Starship "We Built this City" (watch music video) fits the popular rhythm sentiment about cities.

The metropolis is the place where the division of labour is the greatest and where individuality and individual freedom is most expanded. In the metropolis the institutionalized "division of labour" demands individuals to be ever more complex in their "social geometry" of relationships (like an anaesthesiologist, surgeon, surgical nurse, etc. participating in an operation). Applying Simmel's work to the understanding of dreams, his work could be used to create an important foundation for understanding the sociology of communication in dream cities. This "Social Psychological Space" (read dream interpretation) can be seen operating in our dreams as a "Web of Communication" (read dream interpretation).

Jane Jacob's "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", was a powerful critique of the policies of urban renewal. Jacob's tells us about the Swiss architect Le Corbusier's dream city. Le Corbusier's dream city had a powerful impact and captured the imagination of architects, city planners and the public. Interestingly Jacobs moved to Toronto in 1968, in part due to the Vietnam War. Jacob's was influential in the urban development field and made an officer of the Order of Canada.

There are many geopolitically important global cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Prague, Moscow, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Jerusalem, New Delhi, Peking and Ottawa to name a few. With the advent of the internet, the traditional magnetizing definitions of physical and poetic time and place have changed dramatically.

From a popular culture perspective the city is a setting where life and death unfold in literature, film and music. The rise of the novel in the West during the 18th century coincided with a focus on national landscapes. Landscape in this case refers to imaginary literary settings which today include urban/rural, national/regional, natural/cultural configurations, as well as political, religious and economic images that psychologically format the page and the oneiric screen of the modern imagination.

As novels have portrayed society, cities like New York or Los Angeles have become personified like characters in the plot. George Orwell wrote "Down and Out in Paris and London", Christopher Isherwood wrote "Goodbye to Berlin" about pre-Nazi Germany. "Ulysses" is a novel by James Joyce that chronicles the life of a man living in Dublin. Each city has its' own poetic character and personality.

From a music perspective, think of Petula Clark's "Downtown" and Lisa Minelli's "New York, New York" (from the film), or dark films such as Chinatown or Taxi Driver convey a city's sentiments. Fritz Lang's science fiction film "Metropolis" presented his 1927 audience with a cultural vision of the dytopian future of the city. From a different perspective "It's a Wonderful Life" provides the audience with a unique view of how the town of Bedford Falls character and dreams can be collectively transformed into a town's nightmare based on one man's efforts or lack there of.

Many dreams from a variety of cities have been sent to the International Institute for Dream Research. These include;


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.