However I also know the dark side of rural areas, mainly substance abuse triggered by boredom and lack of opportunity. There is always a trade-off.
I don't know where people get this idea that rural America is some kind of idyllic, serene place. It really isn't, for the most part. If you want idyllic, you'll have to find some extremely remote place in the mountains of the western states.
I like rural places fine but the constant barking kills me.
It's pretty bold to be talking about cities and mental health when about five minutes in a small town will vividly show you the backstabbing, gossipy, popularity contest bullshit that comes with "closely knit communities" of all types. Like someone said, it's all a big trade-off. Human beings can go thoroughly nuts anywhere they lay their heads.
From many of these conversations over the years I don't think the experience growing up could have been more different.
The town I grew up in was around 20,000 people. While I absolutely ran into people I knew when out doing errands, I don't think it was ever to the extent my mother-in-law (someone who despises small towns) imagined it to be. I am curious where this notion came from.
From where I grew up in the country we could drive about 20 minutes to get to a town of maybe 1000 people and it's very different than 20k. You probably have one small clinic in the 1k town (compare to multiple doctors and probably a hospital in the 20k town) and maybe a small independent grocery store (vs probably multiple regional chains in the 20k).
The difference of scale is a difference of kind too. And also, the image of the "small town" - the romanticized version - isn't of the strip mall laden 20k town, but of the 1k town frozen in the past.
But let me tell you both of those size towns suck for different reasons. The decay is more palpable now in the 1k town as the economic horizon has really contracted. That one grocery store is probably closed now. The 20k town may make a go at things because it has more residents and thus retail type jobs, but unlike the 1k town built environment is more gross and less quaint, and the strip mall filled landscape is depressing.
A small town is more like 1k, where you're lucky if there's one stoplight. And yes, I've lived in places like that.
That's plenty. There aren't any stinky farms or noisy trucks around. There is a lot of grass to mow, though.
All things considered, I like it.
However, I just spent 2 weeks in Japanese cities, including almost a week in Tokyo, and it was extremely clean. Even on trash day it didn't stink.
However, I haven't had the same experience in non-US cities like Tokyo and Munich. Those cities are just much, much cleaner in many ways than NYC, and it's not just the smell.
A few extras:
* You can't exercise, because dogs don't just bark but also chase you, and no one cares or thinks you're the asshole for complaining because you're in the country.
* Daily life is /very/ stressful. Forgot milk? Well, fuck you, buddy, because you're either doing without it or you're making a 50 minute round-trip that costs $8 extra in fuel. Want a pizza delivered? Nope. Chinese? Hahah. Need someone to come out and provide service? Oh, sorry, the first five places on Yelp don't serve your area. Grandma's calling? Sorry, but you're going to have to get used to repeating things not just once or twice but also a third and fourth time because that one bar of signal isn't going to cut it.
* Depression, drug use, and other adverse coping strategies are literally epidemic -- my entire neighborhood of stable working adults where I grew up all ended up on some combination of meth/oxycontin/xanax/antidepressants with alcohol use in excess of anything I ever see at 2 am throughout the nightlife districts of a top 10 US city.
* Oh, do you think you might need to get actual mental help? Well, those handful of upstanding people who aren't addicts are now going to be judging the hell out of you. Most conditions are just you being weak minded or morally inept. And don't even think about talking to someone or others about your thoughts, because that's not something you do. (And if it's sadness, fear, anxiety, or hallucinations, expect to have everyone suggest spurious religious interpretations instead of physical explanations, which, honestly, as a devout Christian, I now find really damaging both to peoples mental and spiritual health.)
* Friendships are forged as a practical proximal matter and not by choice. No one else benefits your mind or academic or professional achievement, and you probably won't share common interests -- you're buddies because Larry's the most likable dude on your block. In fact, even among friends, most people hold a majority of views that you find seriously revolting, and very few people appreciate any kind of artistic or intellectual activity of any kind. Romantic relationships are even less glamorous.
* Did we go over your essentials yet? Oh, wait, that'll be $70/mo for 1.5Mbps DSL that can't stream Netflix. The water bill will be double any reasonable amount and wastewater is processed in your back yard and at your own expense/peril. If you aren't lucky, you may even need your own well. You'll also have to burn trash or contract a company to come take it. Groceries and house supplies cost 30-50% more per quantity, and you have very little to no selection.
* Trash, everywhere. This alone makes me question anyone who thinks mental health is in any way better in a rural environment. It's sick having to look at collapsing, skirtless mobile homes and junk cars and scrap materials strewn across 15 peoples lawns on the way to the gas station. Any "green space" consists of trespassing behind barbed wire instead of a neatly maintained park.
There's rich rural (think of the Hamptons, Tahoe, Marin/Napa Counties) and poor rural (Appalachia, Deep South, Central Valley), just like there's rich urban (lower Manhattan, Pac Heights, wealthy areas of Taipei/Shanghai/Tokyo etc.) and poor urban (the Tenderloin, the Bronx, much of Baltimore or Detroit). I never see things like trash left out, drug use, etc. in rich rural areas, and it's usually a 5 minute walk to an organic food market. Conversely, I see trash, shit, junkies, mentally ill people, random stabbings, and so on all the time in the Tenderloin. While there may be some correlation between poverty and rural areas, it seems like poverty is a much bigger cause of various social ills.
Also, and while it’s probably controversial to say, I don’t think poverty in the inner city is anywhere near as hard to overcome. First and foremost, you have access to numerous social services and charities that don’t exist in rural settings. You can also literally just take a bus out of any urban ghetto every day and lead any kind of life you want. If you’re stuck in a trailer park surrounded by hell, for lack of a better description, you’re completely and totally fucked — especially if you’re a minor.
Yep, I've seen this with Christians: "you have mental problems because you have demons in you!" This kind of thinking is extremely common in rural America these days.
>If you aren't lucky, you may even need your own well.
Wells are pretty expensive. Sure, the water itself is free, but the electricity to run the pump is not, and even at the frequently cheaper electric rates that rural areas enjoy, it adds up.
>You'll also have to burn trash or contract a company to come take it.
When I was growing up in rural areas, the common thing was to save it all up and haul it to the dump yourself every week or so.
All in all, you make a lot of excellent points that remind me a lot of the time I've spent in rural areas.
Having had wells... The electricity isn't the least of it. These things require regular servicing. Hopefully, you aren't unlucky enough to have it back up... which happened to my mother soon after moving into a newly purchased home. You need to watch the toilet paper you use because some are better than others.
Not to mention the need for a water softener in some areas. I've lived in areas whose water smelled of rotten eggs. This same water would turn hair and white clothing and everything else an orange shade.
You're confusing wells with septic systems. Wells are where you get water (you pump it out of the ground), septic systems are how you dispose of wastewater (basically by dumping it into the ground in a concrete tank, from which it then percolates into pipes with holes in a "septic field").
You're right, septic systems can be a maintenance nightmare.
>Not to mention the need for a water softener in some areas. I've lived in areas whose water smelled of rotten eggs.
Yep, this is the other problem with well water: it frequently has sulfur in it, and is really nasty.
uh. if that constitutes stressful, how do you survive receiving bad personal news?
And let's be real, the cops don't show up during a crime in the city either.
Interesting you mention medivac insurance -- I spent a number of years in a very small town in rural west Texas and I've never heard of that. Numerous times I heard of the race to get someone to one of the towns with a hospital 45 minutes away, though, maybe several times a year.
Maybe it's not at as widespread as you think, or somehow this town of about a thousand people (with one gas station, one restaurant open part time, and no grocery stores) entirely missed out on the existence of something that'd probably have saved lives.
Due to the sheer larger numbers in urban areas, I'm sure you are likely to have the best of the best in cities, but everyone can't be treated by the top 1% of doctors.
Even if your neighbor or neighbors have well-trained or well-controlled dogs, you have to worry about wild animals more than you do in urban areas. I'm not talking about predators as much as prey: A mountain lion is scary, but most of them pretty well leave humans alone. A buck deer in rut is big and deer in general are just really, amazingly stupid.
Plus... there's nowhere to walk to unless you really like seeing not only scenery, but the same scenery, over and over again, unless you spend more money to drive someplace with noticeably different scenery. (Rural areas are big. You can drive for days without seeing noticeably different scenery.)
> Depression, drug use, and other adverse coping strategies are literally epidemic -- my entire neighborhood of stable working adults where I grew up all ended up on some combination of meth/oxycontin/xanax/antidepressants with alcohol use in excess of anything I ever see at 2 am throughout the nightlife districts of a top 10 US city.
Another reason to stay in your home or stick to a small group of friends with no real ability to branch out. Want another friend? OK, pick the person with whom you have no common interests, the other person you have nothing in common with but this person's an alcoholic, or the person who moved there and obviously left the big town for a reason you'll hear about in gossip which will make you very happy you didn't interact with them.
> Oh, do you think you might need to get actual mental help?
Have fun driving hours to and from the next big town in all kinds of dangerously crappy weather!
> Any "green space" consists of trespassing behind barbed wire instead of a neatly maintained park.
Yes. This is something which needs to be mentioned more often: Cities have more public spaces than rural areas, because in rural areas, land is being used. You can't just wander into a wheat field or a cattle ranch. You could be arrested. National Parks are wonderful, but most rural areas aren't parkland, and most rural areas aren't even close to parkland. BLM land is by no means even close to being the same thing.
Some European countries have "freedom to roam" laws, but they're also more dense than rural North America, so most of those countries don't have "rural" to begin with, by and large.
"in rural areas, land is being used" -- it's more that, in rural areas, land is being owned. Not necessarily used. I lived in an extremely rural area for several years and was surrounded by fenced-off land that nobody used because some rich doctor somewhere owned it. You couldn't hike on it, couldn't camp on it, certainly no one else could use it. What a shitty system.
And yes, I recognize that the system that permits some out-of-state doctor to "own" thousands of acres is the same one that would permit me to some day, and I don't give a shit; I'd rather structure the world in such a way that nobody could fence it off like that. Maybe as small a tweak as a 'right to roam' law in America.
Sure you cannot ‘order a pizza’ or anything else in this countryside (sometimes someone new moves in a few km down on another mountain who starts out delivering something, like pizza, but gives up pretty quickly), I can bake one in my homemade woodoven though, with friends who I met here and sound very different from the ones you met over there too.
If dogs attack you, they are not removed over there? They are here which is why that hardly ever happens. There have been none such incidents here for many years.
Radio beamed internet (point to point) is cheap and streams Netflix, Video conferencing etc fine and now everywhere is cheap unlimited 4g, so I can hike in the forest and take a rest with a funny cat video.
Water and electra are cheap and enough space to put solar for hot water and electric: waste is collected at waste points.
The only thing is that the ambulance comes late indeed, but you can have a chopper (for free) and the healthcare is excellent here (and free); but I would imagine a solid heartattack would kill me here, but it does so in most places, just here it is more sure. But in return for that I have clean air, a ton of space, and, opposite of your experience, far less stress; it is Spain, nothing is in a hurry here which is great once you accept it. Probably will save you a few strokes in the end. Everything is cheap over here as well, my neighbors live of 500 euros a month, something that can be picked up doing a few hours per month of coding for a city client while sitting in the garden.
The thrash also rings no bells and mobile homes are not normal (or even allowed long term), cars have to pay road tax even if they cannot drive until they are scrapped at an official scrapyard, so people have them destroyed etc.
I guess this really depends on the country; things like rural HK, Shanghai, Thailand (ChiangMai), France, Germany or the parts of rural Australia or New Zealand I have been for longer stretches are also not as you describe at all.
Also, a lot of people, including me, who grew up in rural areas, hate them after they leave for university etc but later in life start to long for them again in my experience.
> You can't exercise, because dogs don't just bark but also chase you, and no one cares or thinks you're the asshole for complaining because you're in the country.
This is literally what pepper spray and similar is intended for. Don't go cycling without it! You have to look out for yourself if you're in the middle of nowhere. Not willing to do that? Then don't live or do things there. Idiot dog owners are everywhere, but a pack of farm dogs is no joke when the nearest person is more than a mile away.
The smart people who were crazy enough to walk or jog regularly carried 5+ foot ugly sticks (or spears/lances) and/or a firearm.
I almost had a 65 lb mastiff make it through the window of my dad’s lifted F350 at cruising speed, and that was the third attack in a one mile stretch. That was the day I decided I wasn’t ever going on foot again.
Wow. Where was this?! I'm accustomed to clueless pet owners but that's just ridiculous. Cycling regularly, I recall ~4 run-ins over as many years (compared to none in urban or suburban areas ever).
I suppose I'd graduate to rubber bullets or even bird shot if it was that bad, but at some point it's really up to the authorities to ensure some minimal level of public safety. What is animal control even for if they don't fix things like this? It sounds like you were located in a terribly run county.
That describes most rural counties in America.
Especially for those that grew up around it.
Grass fed cattle dung barely smells even when it's fresh. Same with horses. Pigs are the same, only when in concentration.
The dogs don't bark up our tree.
Rural people are more likely to abuse alcohol, whereas city dwellers are more likely to abuse hard drugs.
But I still feel that city people are crazier and more dangerous on average. The stick and carrot aspect of big cities does drive people at least slightly crazy.
I would wager that the overwhelming majority of people moving from rural to urban areas are doing it to better their bank accounts.
You do raise a valid point, which is that a car is a luxury. Having lots of land is a luxury. Having kids is a luxury. Living in a long Urban center where the grocery store is a 2 minute walk away is a luxury.
It's up to the people receiving the UBI to decide which luxuries they want to spend it on. You can't have it all unless you can earn enough to pay for it all.
I never said conditions like that should be added, only that we shouldn't give out enough UBI for people to live a luxurious lifestyle, which is what rural life really is in America, in a way. Think about it: what would happen to poor, rural Americans if we jacked the price of gasoline up to European levels, where it really should be?
>Living in a long Urban center where the grocery store is a 2 minute walk away is a luxury.
It's really not, it's simple geometry. If you pack people into a dense urban environment with tiny little apartments and remove the luxury of a car and lots of land, then a 2-minute walk to a grocery store becomes almost automatic. It's a tradeoff: you simply cannot have a 2-minute walk to a grocery store if everyone has a separate, freestanding McMansion with a giant yard. Anyone with a basic understanding of geometry should understand this. Put everyone into tiny apartments in high-rises and a quick walk to the grocery store is easy to accomplish (make sure the urban area has mixed-use zoning though).
You're actually proving their point for them:
>> which is that a car is a luxury. Having lots of land is a luxury. Having kids is a luxury. Living in a long Urban center where the grocery store is a 2 minute walk away is a luxury.
If your optimizing for least effort for a given income level moving to the city is a no-brainer since it's where all the easy money is.
You can say that about literally anywhere. It's a matter of how doable it is, and how much effort it'll be, versus the reward, compared to just going somewhere else. The simple fact is that there's far fewer jobs in rural areas, and also there's far, far fewer good-paying jobs.
Cities arent perfect. I'm absolutely stressed over the hectic pace of a large city. But I'm not depressed and hopeless like those I know in rural areas.
Maybe we each have to pick our poison.
Too many of the people I meet are ground down, sliding by, holding on, grappling with their identity and place in the world, somewhere on the scale of mildly scarred to full blown post traumatic, anxiety ridden, and/or profoundly lost.
Religion has abjectly failed humanity as a primary means for grappling with and managing the crushing gears of life. The idea that our non-denominational “community” is supposed to fill in the gap is laughable. The dream that the Internet would somehow fill that role at scale has proven in many cases to do just the opposite.
It’s not that humanity is lost or without hope, but we destroy ourselves (and our planet) in the way we live, and I doubt strongly that our genetic predisposition / survival instincts will ever allow us to reach any form of widespread enlightenment.
But even so, that doesn’t make all the killing in the name of religion less bad.
E.g. faith that building universities and education makes people behave in a "sciencey" manner
Although, not sure if any Universities specifically have been built there by the West, yet.
How do you diagnose this? Is there a checklist of signs you look for? Do they eventually tell you, etc.?
Just curious, because I don't get to meet than many people all the time, so I can't collect sociological samples and reach conclusions in the way you seem to be doing.
>In their review, Meyer-Lindenberg and van den Bosch found that some potential threats had been examined more thoroughly than others. For some, including pollen, there wasn’t enough information yet to show a convincing link to depression. However, the team did find a number of studies suggesting that heavy metals like lead, pesticides, common chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), and noise pollution may contribute to depression, although further research is still needed to confirm that this is the case.
The article gives me the distinct impression that the author is in denial of the stress associated with living in a crowded place. I doubt that it has to do much with fumes in the air- stress is a side effect of spending all day hustling, bustling, and competing. The popular opinion in the zeitgeist is that urban development is a good thing- so any bad effects are treatable. Adding green space may be a decent way to treat the symptoms of city living, but I think it will always be a stressful, mental illness-inducing lifestyle.
The fact that he doesn't even address the "human factors" that basically don't exist in rural areas (you can leave your house unlocked and it will probably never be robbed, you don't have to worry about the tax man screwing you if you misread a sign about when you can park, you don't have to actively avoid stepping in human feces) are kind of a tip off. Worrying about other humans who you have not chosen to interact with doing things that screws you over is a whole category of stress that's basically nonexistent in rural areas".
If you're interested in the historical/humanistic perspective on urban planning more generally, check out the New Urbanists. Understanding pre-car settlements, how and why they worked, long-term norms, etc. is kind of their thing. It's also worthwhile to visit some old (500+ year) built environments in person.
I found this piece on "Sabbath as alarm"  through Slate Star Codex, and it resonated for me:
>One more useful attribute of the Jewish Sabbath is the extent to which its rigid rules generate friction in emergency situations. If your community center is not within walking distance, if there is not enough slack in your schedule to prep things a day in advance, or you are too poor to go a day without work, or too locally isolated to last a day without broadcast entertainment, then things are not okay.
After a while you realize that there's no such thing as a stress-free, liberating walk. Traffic is so all-pervasive that everywhere you go, you're constantly negotiating your way around vehicular traffic, most of which believes that yielding to pedestrians is a distant second concern to getting around as quickly as possible at any cost. Every cross-walk you use you have to watch yourself for drivers turning left and right who aren't paying attention. Every four-way stop you have to look around and make sure that drivers are actually going to stop for you. Blocks are short, so this is all you're doing all the time.
The sheer volume of infrastructure that's built for cars means there's not much left over. The only places to get that that sense of liberation back besides distant parks or suburbs well outside the municipal core. Any parks of non-trivial size in the city are filled to the brim with roads, many of which actually act as throughfare shortcuts for standard traffic most of the time (e.g. JFK in Golden Gate Park), so you're facing all the car problems as any other street.
After a while it's hard not to be constantly on edge looking out for the next person who's about to do something dangerous to you, which is quite stressful and almost certainly has negative long-term mental effects. It really doesn't have to be the case though — contrast the car-first streets of San Francisco and other American cities to the pedestrian plazas and legitimately car-free urban parks of some cities and Europe, and it's a world of difference. We could be doing so much better.
* kids being killed if they try to play in the street
* urban centres being destroyed by parking lots
* elderly people being terrified to cross the street
* Dead cyclists
And one of the reasons that cities are better for the environment is less need of transportation.
"In fact, the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health estimates that city dwellers face a nearly 40 percent higher risk of depression, 20 percent higher chance of anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia than people living in rural areas."
But your point about move about less: people living in cities actually move more. You’re much likely to walk or bicycle to shops or work when the distance is one and a half mile than when it’s ten.
I don’t want to be restricted to shopping, work, or entertainment that is walking distance or possibly public transit if I’m feeling adventurous, which is what living in a city constrains you to.
Just as an example, where I am sitting right now, I have more than 30 restaurants and cafés that I can reach within 5 minutes walk. If I don't mind walking a bit longer, or taking the subway a few stops, for a total traveltime of say 20 minutes, I can reach hundreds, most likely thousands, of restaurants. Shopping and entertainment are similar.
And this is far from a mega-city, but a city with around a million people.
I argue we have equal access to places of interest, and I need a car regardless for access to places public transit doesn't go; it's a net win for me versus inflated city housing and other costs associated with an urban lifestyle. (This ignores temporarily the argument that having access to hundreds or thousands of restaurants and places of shopping is necessary or significantly more valuable) Yes, I spend more time in transit, but the quality of life in transit is much higher than that of it in city life.
From my perspective, I personally cannot see a positive in living in the city now that I have a family. We lead a far better life than we could in an urban core (did I mention my backyard pool?). This is my argument against the stance "city == better!" people seem to take, even when evidence (see: this article) is demonstrating otherwise.
You are totally missing the point. I don't have to cover 60-80 miles per hour, because everything I need and want on a daily basis is close. Where I'm living (Europe) the streets are safe and comfortable to walk and the public transportation is usually nice. I let my two year old ride on my shoulders on the walk to dinner, and he loves riding both buses and trains. And while we do that, I talk with him instead of having him strapped in in a back seat.
And I've had long commutes before. And I absolutely hated to lose 90 minutes a day of the little time I have left after work, sleep and chores. I'd much rather spend that time with my child.
Then I perfectly well understand that city-life isn't for everyone. It's great that you can get a big yard without bankrupting yourself. I've never argued that city-life is better than rural living in all aspects.
But you tried to argue that you have better access to entertainment and shopping because you can drive so fast from where you are. Don't expect anyone to take that seriously.
We need a Randall Monroe What If?
When I drive in to the city, which I do sometimes, I am imposing a cost on everyone living in that city because I chose to drive.
I still do it sometimes - if I'm going to Ikea I'm not carrying my stuff home on the train - but let's not pretend it isn't a burden on others.
Press a button to call a ride. Press a button to select a destination. 24-hour automated operation, and free-to-use for passengers with hand-carried items.
Compared with an elevator, a street-driven electric car is a bit of a nightmare. The closest horizontal analog is commuter trains on electrified rails, and even those are shaped by car culture.
If a city were planned like a building, and horizontal movement given over to externally-powered single-car on-demand vehicles that move exclusively on dedicated trackways, there wouldn't be so much space and energy wasted on cars.
Unfortunately in the US many criticize such efforts as being like Disneyland - as if that is a bad a thing.
I actually think it's silly to allow guns in cars and not on public transport (way more drive-bys than bus-bys, after all) but that's definitely an edge case.
Electric vehicles do nothing to address roads occupying more space than sidewalks, for example.
New York, NY 45.6%
Newark, NJ 59.7%
Washington, DC 62.9%
Jersey City, NJ 62.9%
Cambridge, MA 63.2%
Boston, MA 66.2%
Paterson, NJ 67.0%
Hartford, CT 67.4%
San Francisco, CA 70.1%
Manhattan alone is larger than many other cities, and it's only one "borough" in the city. If you look at Manhattan by itself, I'm sure you'll see very different numbers on car ownership. It's the people in Bronx, Queens, etc. that skew the numbers.
I've driven in Amsterdam and paradoxically it's a hell of a lot nicer than driving in, say, LA.
I don't wish to conflate Denmark and the Netherlands but they've both made huge improvements in similar fashion with respect to livable cities. If career allows it I might still move because I want to live somewhere my child can ride a bike to school. Houten comes to mind.
If I'm suffering from mental illness, I'd be more inclined to seek the anonymousness of a city, rather than the exposure of a small town/village
(In my experience the same is one of the reasons why homeless tend to move to bigger cities and/or why most of a city's homeless population is made up from people who weren't born there).
Wow, that is HUGE. Especially considering the population shift out of rural areas and into cities. We'd better get some social psych types working on this.
I moved from Toronto to Waterloo.
Productivity up. 'Mental illness' gone.
Less noise, less pollution, less stress, more sense of optimism.