by Sana Ahmed
Sitting in my office, located on one of Lahore’s busiest roads, I close my eyes and listen to what I hear. There is a stray dog barking far away, cars and motor bikes constantly swooshing outside on the road, a microwave timer going off, multiple phones ringing – it is a busy city day for me.
And I already know that this will be followed by similar noises until I drift to sleep in my room, in the back of the house away from these sounds. I am not sure if I prefer the concrete silence of my room or the metallic noise of the road? But for now when I close my eyes the flash of the city lights lingers and when its quiet my ears ring.
This settles it then – I must be city stressed. And how could I not be?
As cities expand, there is enough scientific evidence indicating that urban life can have lasting impact on human brain. In stressful situation, people from cities show extra brain activity which is associated with anxiety, depression and even violence. This is the reason why urban dwellers experience high rates of mental illness such as schizophrenia.
Research also show that this change in brain occurs during the early developmental stages. A study done on people who lived in cities for first 15 years of their lives were found to be more alert in stressful situations due to hyper activity in certain parts of their brains. These constant, yet diverse, stress triggers in the city also means that those who are exposed to it will never get immune around it.
So does it mean then that I should move out of this city I was born in? My second line of thought is – but what will I do without my car? or roads that take me to places? And more importantly how to get medical help when I need it?
In fact, city lives do have many advantages which can not be overlooked. Even in future,when 70 per cent of the world is predicted to live in urban areas, the cities will remain the hub of important activities. The challenge then is to evolve the concrete jungles into spaces which are more in touch with nature.
Meanwhile, as scientists and architects work together to make future cities more serene, I will dream of waking up to the chirping birds in my quiet city house.
Sana Ahmed is Senior Communications Officer, WWF-Pakistan.