Emotions drive our life. They shape our possibilities, determine our reactions to situations and our outlook on the future. Yet have you ever read a city plan that starts with the emotions or even refers to them? 'Our aim is to make citizens happy.' 'We want to create a sense of joy and passion in our city, to engender a feeling of love for your place.' 'We want to encourage a feeling of inspiration and beauty.' It is rare to find such sentiments in the context of urban discourse. Yet it is odd that emotions, a defining feature of human existence, are absent in discussions of city-making. Instead the prevalent, interchangeable words and concepts proliferating involve a barren, unemotional language that is performance-driven - strategy, development, policy, outcomes, framework, targets - and feels hollow and without a reference point. A challenge for city leaders is to describe the aims for their city without using any of those words.
In 1995 Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence,30 which pulled together the huge amount of work in developing areas of brain research, where extraordinary advances have been made in understanding how people function. Goleman stressed the central-ity of emotions. While most people already knew this intuitively, now this notion was given experimental testimony. This book, and other writings by authors such as Jack Mayer, Peter Salovey and David Caruso, have advanced our understanding of the role of emotions in dealing with life.
Emotional Intelligence focuses on two broad areas. First, human competencies like self-awareness, self-discipline, motivation, persistence, empathy and social skills are of greater consequence than IQ or technical skills in much of life. (And these forms of intelligence can be taught.) Second, there seem to be eight fundamental emotions. Five are connected to survival: fear, guilt, anger, sadness and shame. The three others - excitement, joy and love - make us bond and attach and are not about survival. A ninth crucial element is surprise - the startled emotion that can translate into either fear or excitement, depending on context. Within this emotional interplay there is a balance between safety and a sense of anchoring and exploration. Just as unfettered fear is unsustainable, so is continuous excitement. Emotions and feelings are different, although the words are used interchangeably. All feelings are a compound of the emotions - a palette of colours. The evidence suggests that these emotions are not only cross-cultural but that they apply to the whole mammalian realm.
How does this connect to city-making? Just as we can test a person's feelings system, any place-making project should start with 'How does it feel?' rather than 'Does it meet a particular specification?' The latter is not about the human condition. If one can tap into emotions, places can become more sustaining and sustainable. For example, darkness engenders fear, but stark sodium lights which seek to solve fear also make us fearful as the light sharpens the contours between dark and light. It feels cold and external. Soft light that feels welcoming is a better solution. High-rise blocks can make people feel diminished as overwhelming structures can feel outside a person's control, thus engendering fear and again a cold and external feeling. It makes a person feel less powerful. It takes away the sense of identity with which we manage the world. Thus a high-rise block that works would tend to balance the excitement of a view or a sense of awe with comforting features. These might, for example, be soft textures created through greening or planting. Interestingly, the theme park seeks to balance the emotions in a controlled way by triggering excitement while diminishing fear.
Contrast a theme park with a cathedral. Even for the non-religious, a medieval cathedral or mosque can uplift as the experience of a sense of awe and dignity balances the possible overwhelming feeling with a feeling of order and structure. On the other hand, a modern church can often feel like a social workers' gathering place when it does not lift the person into a different state of being, belonging and wanting to feel attached. Attachment is a fundamental human cue. The brain, it appears, is hard-wired to need a dimension we can call the spiritual - some high-order symmetry. Yet we do not have the same level of evidence as to where to locate it. It is a common cross-cultural response which triggers a sense of possibility and wholeness. Much of this knowledge is intuitive. Intuition, although decried as unscientific, in fact requires a highly developed sensibility, which comes from reflecting on a range of experiences. Intuitively, people seem to know what kind of places work and they vote with their feet as these become popular. They might not be able to explain why, as their intuition is insufficiently self-conscious and thus untutored. Again, intuition has zero status in city-making, so people have to school themselves in accepting physical environments that conflict with their own instincts rather than trusting their own judgements. By neglecting the capacity for people fundamentally to trust their own judgements we infantilize them.
The emotional intelligence debate also highlights the fact that competencies based on emotional intelligence play a far greater role in leadership and general performance than do intellect or technical skill, and that both individuals and organizations benefit from cultivating these capabilities. In Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Annie McKee and Richard E. Boyatzis outline five components: Self-awareness, the ability to recognize and understand one's moods, emotions and drives as well as their effect on others, which leads to accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence; self-regulation, the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses or moods as well as the propensity to suspend judgement, which leads to self-control and adaptability; motivation, a passion for something, such as the city, that goes beyond money or status as well as a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence; empathy, the capacity to understand the emotional make-up of others and the skill of treating people according to their emotional reactions; and social skill, the ability to manage relationships and build networks as well as find common ground and build rapport.31 At the core of the latter two is empathetic listening.
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