While trying to come up with an appropriate topic for my blog post this week, I found myself browsing through the Urban Studies Twitter list. I clicked on an interesting article, which in turn had a link to an even more interesting article with the evocative title, “Why Aren’t Cities Littered with Dead Pigeons?” My interest was piqued. It’s an intriguing question, and one I’ve never taken the time to consider. As I read through the article, I found myself simultaneously fascinated and nauseated – interspersed among the interesting facts and quotes from primary sources on the topic were a number of pictures and videos of pigeon-disappearance in action.
Apart from the obvious answer of “because other animals eat them,” an interesting insight was the remark that there are dead pigeons in the city; most city-dwellers are simply too unobservant to notice them. This concept – the simple not-noticing – makes me wonder what else goes overlooked in city life. In the hustle and bustle of going from Point A to Point B, what other elements of the city are ignored? This question made me think of the reading we did for class on Monday, when we read “The Metropolis and Mental Life” by Georg Simmel.
Simmel wrote about the phenomenon of the blasé outlook, an occurrence that he wrote was found only in the city. This blasé outlook is “at first the consequence of those rapidly shifting stimulations of the nerves which are thrown together in all their contrasts and from which it seems to us the intensification of metropolitan intellectuality seems to be deprived” (105). What Simmel is getting at here is that being unobservant is a necessity for urban life. There is much that goes unnoticed by citizens of the city, and there is nothing wrong with that fact. It is okay for Bobby Walker to stroll past not only the dead pigeons, but also the graffiti, the street vendors, the crazy guy, the homeless woman, and the troupe of street performers without ever noting their existence because noticing every single detail on his daily commute to work would be overwhelming.
There is an overload of information and stimuli everywhere you look in the metal-and-concrete labyrinths that are cities. As a recent tourist to New York City, I can say that by the end of my three-day trip, I was not only physically exhausted, but mentally exhausted as well. I wanted to make the most of my limited time in the Big Apple, so I spent every waking moment drinking in as much of the city as my eyes would allow. My eyes were on a repeating cycle: look UP at that billboard okay now LEFT at that store window and FORWARD okay I’m not going to run into anyone DOWN at the gutter RIGHT wow that guy is dressed like a matador and back UP another billboard TURN AROUND get a second look at that… There is no way I could visually inspect everything so thoroughly on a daily basis without losing my mind. Simmel was right when he wrote that a blasé outlook is essential in the city; the crazy person seems to be a common element in urban neighborhoods, and it seems the city itself lends a hand in creating the crazy.