For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in the countryside. We like to think that the world is in the midst of urbanization, but it has already happened. At Spirituality & Practice, we have been developing spiritual practices that can be used in the city on a daily basis, so we are happy to discover this erudite and inspiring work. It brought to mind a quotation from Jungian psychologist James Hillman: "We need to remember that the city, the metropolis, means at root a streaming, flowing, thronging Mother. We are her children, and she can nourish our imaginations if we nourish hers."
Thomas Singer, editor of Psyche & the City, is a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has invited 22 contributors to present their psychologically oriented interpretations of the following cities: Bangalor, Berlin, Cairo, Cape Town, Jerusalem, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Montreal, Moscow, New Orleans, New York, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Shanghai, Sydney, and Zurich. They praise the energy, the architecture, the rich history, the global dimensions, the fast pace, the stories of their experiences in the city, and much more. There are also essays on the work of urban activist Jane Jacobs; a tribute to flaneurs, urban strollers who savor the oddities of city life; and an Afterword by editor Thomas Singer.
As we walk down the streets of Manhattan where we have lived for 40 years, we can bring to mind memories of past experiences on various streets: here we saw a play, there we ate at a Greek restaurant which inexplicably closed, here we went on a seesaw in the park, there we sat and listened to the pleasing sound of a small waterfall. Reading this book gave us the same kind of pleasure, and we thank Singer and the writers for the following treats and insights into city living:
• A city's monuments can tell us its view of itself, its priorities, and its cultural identity.
• You can tell a lot about a city in the way its citizens treat new immigrants.
• The city is the workshop of the soul, where it finds a place to move.
• The cultural diversity of the metropolis is what appeals to the artist within us as we see the melding of the races and the creativity that ensues.
• Urban centers grow and change with incredible speed, and walking down the streets is a constant reminder of metamorphosis.
• The city is a state of mind: complex, mysterious, paradoxical, playful, perverted, aggressive, hospitable, and exuberant.
And as Gustavo Barcellos says in an essay on São Paulo: "The city teaches; it is the master. We are all in school."