Each metropolis has its trademarks. Seattle has coffee and rain. Paris has the Eiffel Tower and baguettes. Los Angeles has Hollywood, endless summer and even more endless traffic jams.
While these icons and stereotypes make the aforementioned cities famous, none of them lies at the heart of what drives each urban area. How can we get past the surface and discover the beliefs, values and experiences behind the inner workings of a city?
Here are a few strategies:
Let go of first impressions. Our inner barometers aren’t always accurate. Our first impressions can be skewed by a number of factors like our own cultural cues, values and even our mood. Allow room for gray in your observations and let your understanding of the city take shape over time.
Let the city speak for itself. What are the people saying? No, not the spokespeople, scholars or politicians. What do everyday citizens think of their neighborhood, district or city? What do they value? What are they fighting for?
Listen to the silence. What is not up for discussion? What issues or topics seem to be left on the sidelines? What a city doesn’t talk about can be as revealing as what a city does talk about.
Following these guidelines won’t give us a comprehensive picture of the city, but it will give us a good place to start, helping us make room for different perspectives and new connections. Here in Berlin, we are also trying to listen to what our city is saying, and once in a while, we benefit from the research of others. Take, for example, this survey conducted by a local broadcasting company last summer.
Here are a few of the results (translated from German):
– 82 percent of Berliners would not move out of their Kiez (neighborhood)
– 40 percent of Berliners feel there is a division between the east and the west
– 41 percent of Berliners have stolen something
– 92 percent of Berliners enjoy their job
– 30 percent of Berlin pets get birthday gifts
What is your city saying today?