The fact that now more than a half of world's population lives in cities is so obvious and talked through so many times that tackling it once again may seem like a no-go especially if one tries to emphasize pressures that are put on the environment, resources, infrastructure... oh, no, I will not go this way.
As a counter to all these repetitive calls for action to rethink, rebuild, adapt and whatever else they find necessary, I will voice an opinion of a regular citizen. One who can't see that now there is more of us in cities than in rural areas. One that can't see if our environment can take some more or if it's at the brink of a disaster. One that, really, doesn't care much about smart grids or externalities. Not because he's an ignorant or his intelligence won't let him think much outside the box. Simply he has his own problems on his mind. From the moment he leaves his apartment he passes his neighbours rushing, just like him, to work. Then he gets into an elevator already filled with those who, probably, live upstairs. But you never know if they really live there, or just regularly visit so it's hard to tell who's your neighbour. Than he gets to the station, also already filled with other commuters patiently waiting for the train to come. Little to no eye contact makes it easy to distinguish those who do it as a daily routine from those unassimilated newcomers trying to catch a glimpse of someones attention, hoping to see a smile or have a friendly chat. Forget it, you won't get any of that here. Instead you can look at a poster, read the "news" in a free paper ("Stuff your mind Daily") or dive into the virtual with your mobile device (some stations even offer WiFi, so you get anti-social quicker and for longer). Okay, let's cut it here. So what really bothers our average commuter? Density!
Man is a social being, it's easier for us to live in families, it's more productive to work in teams and we generally spent our time better when we can interact. So what's better thing to do when you're with other people on a train, at the station, in a park or anywhere else where there's more of us? Is it looking blindly into distance, getting unreal with our mobile phones (browsing, playing games) or constantly shying away from other peoples eyes?
We are all forced into being close to each other when traveling, yet there's no incentive to get interactive with each other. It's not hard to imagine how much more plausible experience it would be if the norm was to look, speak and act rather than try to hide and get past this moment as fast as possible. Behavioural change is needed to better manage this dense atmosphere. A shift from inward to outward social experience can be achieved without big investment and it only requires a recognition of a problem. City is not just it's systems and their capacity, it's (for the most part) the people who use these systems and how they feel about that.
Let me be clear on that: not huge investment, not more efficient machinery, not even less pollution will make cities much better- it's change in our behaviour, the moment we realise that we DO live together and we become happy about that, not just tolerant.
Not to sound like a moaner I will share a couple of ideas that could make transit experience more social, or at least worthwhile.
- Multiplayer gaming. Imagine if armrests were equipped with simple electronic devices letting passengers engage each other with games (e.g. chess, scrabble, cards, pong).
- Poetry read out loud or, known from facebook, "tube facts" sharing interesting info about history of the tube... or just anything that might catch attention and motivate to share impressions.
- Playing melodies. There is no better way to affect people's mood than music. Wouldn't you smile if you've heard a positive melody?
- Campaigns. Promoting friendly attitudes among commuters could take a form of informing people about other people who made friends on the tube, went on a date with someone met on the train, made a business there ("That's a really nice watch, where can I get one like this? - I sell designer watches, are you really interested?") or made others just feel better.