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complexity and the emotional city – part one

May 25, 2011
"What is a city but the people”
 Shakespeare, Coriolanus

How many of us truly know the cities in which we live?
The cities where we work and play.

Where we have families and safe shelter.
Where we connect
Where we become
Where we fade into the background
Where we live our dreams and hide from our fears

We imprint ourselves

Who we are
Who we have been
Who we want to be

Our memories
Our dreams

The simple city; full of myth and legend and memory.

I was not borne in the city. I am a forest boy. I have mining rights and the ability to drive a herd of sheep through the Forest of Dean. Although, I think these privileges have probably lapsed seeing as I haven’t lived there since my birth and the first few months of my life.

I don’t know why I mention this. It seems important.

I am city boy. Despite periods of my younger life living, literally, in the middle of
nowhere, I am and always have been a person most comfortable in the city.

In the urban sprawl surrounded by life and activity. Not that I very often engage.
I just like to know it’s there.

To step into the chaos every now and then before a retreat back to splendid seclusion.

I find my relationship with the city in which I live a complicated affair. I have lived in this city for many years. I grew up here. Was educated here. Have always had family to return to here.

This city is important to me. I belong here. I know how this city works.

I have become the city that I live in and the city shares a part of me.

This city inhabits me.

The city with all its personalities and purpose confounds and confuses. It performs many parts which it plays just for us. Time scars urban fabric and opens cracks for the rivers of our memory.

The complex city; unfinished.

We are blinded by complexity.
We have no choice in this. (unaware yet always present)

The brain automatically filters the images the eye receives as a necessary function. It distils the most essential detail that will allow us to operate safely; if there are gaps, or grey spots, the brain will make a best guess. But that doesn’t mean there is not a more complex or dense environment surrounding us.

We just have to go back and re-read the layers.

We have to want to discover the complex.

Our eyes do deceive. They have to.

We must find new ways to interrogate the complex; to build space.

To understand who we are is to understand where we live. The multiple self reflected in the memory of place passed down.

From → City, Complexity

  1. helena sands permalink


  2. Interesting and poetic blog. I particularly like the idea of not necessarily wanting to engage with the life of the city, but wanting to know it is there.

    It’s funny, I’ve always been a city boy too, finding them exciting and stimulating places. Literally so. I just have to walk through London or New York to feel my pulse quicken and a strange, enlivening euporia flood over me. Even Glasgow, which feels small and parochial at points, retains the lifeblood of urbanity, certainly always offering a different example of humanity in its pomp, bombast and, indeed, complexity.

    And yet recently I have felt some inner sense struggling to betray me, pushing through to suggest that perhaps the urban sprawl isn’t everything. I was born in a city, lived in cities and returned to a city, yet my teenage years were in a small town in the Scottish Highlands, with all its rural charm and challenge. Now I find myself called to the wilds of Northumberland and the quaint appeal of the English market town, to mountains and rivers and desolate places. Not all the time, not permanently, not to live.

    Not yet.

    It is this dichotomous appeal, the vibrant humanity of the city and the isolated otherness of the country, which makes for such an interesting exploration. I look forward to seeing the next part of your blog.

  3. Ian Frampton permalink

    Hi Chris. I’m just getting started with reading your blog. Good as ever to hear your thoughts… On the topic of cities, I would recommend Jonathan Raban’s excellent book Soft City; although it may be out of print.

    Lots of love from us country folk,


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