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March 21, 2014

STAWAR: City Mouse vs. Country Mouse

— Last week my wife Diane and I were planning to go to lunch in Jeffersonville. I became distracted, however, and made a wrong turn onto the Second Street Bridge. Before we knew it we found ourselves in downtown Louisville and rather than admit a mistake, I decided we should have lunch in the Fourth Street Live! area.

I often forget just how close we are to downtown. It was a warm day and there was a lot of traffic and people walking the streets. We parked several blocks from the restaurant. The meter was only good for 30 minutes, which meant that one of us had to leave the restaurant in the middle of the meal to feed the meter, so we wouldn’t get a ticket. Since my knee has been acting up, Diane made the run. It was embarrassing, but sometimes orthopedics overrule masculine pride.

The experience reminded me of the pressure that a lot of people feel in large cities. Much of my discomfort centers on the car. I worry about one-way streets, trying to thread through traffic, playing chicken with cabs and pedestrians, and, of course, the challenge of finding a parking space. Perhaps this stems from the $150 parking ticket I got in Manhattan, the embarrassment of valet parking, or  the fortune it cost  to park near Radio City Music Hall. In any event I am constantly preoccupied with the car when we’re in the city. It’s kind of  claustrophobic and like the 1994 movie “Speed,” you feel like you have to keep moving.

I grew up in a small town  across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, which is very much like living across the Ohio from Louisville.

My family was  intimidated by the city, especially driving in the nerve-racking St. Louis traffic. We rarely crossed the Mississippi River unless there was some special reason. On rare occasions my older sisters would take me on the streetcar  to downtown to see a movie or look at the store windows decorated for Christmas.

Over the past several decades America has been steadily growing more urban. In the 2010 census, about 81 percent of Americans lived in cities, while only 16 percent live in the country. Despite its small population, rural areas still account for over 90 percent of the land. This overall effects of urban migration on people and their lives is still uncertain.

Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, from Germany’s  Institute of Mental Health says that city dwellers on the average, have “more money, better food, and greater access to health care than country folk” On the flipside she says that research indicates that “ memory and attention can suffer in urban environments” and city folks generally display more anxiety and depression. The risk for developing schizophrenia also dramatically increases for people raised in an urban environment and children are more likely to develop a serious emotional disorders compared to their rural peers according to Meyer-Lindenberg.

Dak Kopec, from Boston Architectural College recently commented on  New York’s “micro-apartments”, saying “Sure, these micro-apartments may be fantastic for young professionals in their 20s “But they definitely can be unhealthy for older people ...” According to   Kopec overcrowding is associated with increase domestic violence and substance abuse. Much of the stress stems from the cumulative effects of what, at first, seems like minor inconveniences.

For me urban stress includes the  fear of getting mugged,  mastering public transportation, tolerating crowds, dealing with aggressive people, coping with outlandish prices, and of course, parking.  Can you really avoid all this by moving to the country? According to Wall Street Journal columnist Melinda Beck, “you're more likely to get in a traffic accident, die of a gunshot wound, suffer from high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes if you live in a rural area.” Research shows that Americans living in cities often “live longer, healthier lives than their country cousins.” Beck says that this is a reversal from past decades when cities where synonymous with pollution, crime, and infectious disease. Of course, this is not true around the nation.

County Health Rankings reports contain health measures for every county in the country. Here’s how Clark and Floyd counties stack up against Louisville on the 2013 report.

Clark is better and Floyd is slightly worse than Louisville when it comes to overall reports of poor health. When it comes to poor mental health days Louisville has fewer than either Indiana county. Louisville also comes out looking better in resident smoking and drinking, but it’s worse when it comes to obesity.   

The city falls in the middle regarding physical inactivity, with Floyd scoring best on this indicator.  The city, however, is way ahead on  health care providers per resident, preventable hospital stays and health screenings. On the other hand, it has relatively more vehicular deaths and a higher violent crime rate. It also has more children living in poverty and higher unemployment. All these data suggest a mixed bag when it comes to the benefits of city living.

I did find one distinct advantage to living in Floyd County — it has the highest rate of fast food restaurants and they all have free parking.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com



 

 

 

 

 

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