The purpose of the city: create conditions for conflict

This thought just struck me – what if the purpose of the cities/towns/villages is to bring people closer together?  And the closer we get to each other, the more conflict there is.  Is the purpose of the city then to generate conflict?  What is the purpose of generating conflict?

Conflict generates dissonance, a distinct or subtle sense that things are not right.  A city, just like a person, can sit quite a while with the feeling that things are not quite right before we decide to take action.  Smoking in restaurants, idle-free parking, deciding to support active transportation are all collective decisions that have come about as a result of conflict in a community.

There is a pull in us to be closer together, but we also push each other away, to not live too close to each other.  We resist being close, because we resist being in conflict.  As a city planner and community volunteer I regularly hear people – on the public record and off – say they do not want people close to them, especially more people close to them.  I wonder if we resist the pull to be closer to people because it brings conflict with it, and we tend to either avoid conflict wherever possible, or even stir it up, neither of which takes acknowledges of the wisdom within conflict.  What are we missing as a result?

I am left with a series of questions:

  1. What if I/we let conflict teach me/us?
  2. What would happen to cities if I/we welcomed and invited conflict for the purposes of generating new understanding?
  3. What if I/we viewed conflicts as opportunities?
  4. What if I/we found ways to work through and beyond conflicts?

In the end, I notice that when I work through conflict, I arrive a new understanding.  I change.  Is that what I/we am/are afraid of when avoiding conflict?

3 thoughts on “The purpose of the city: create conditions for conflict”

  1. Hey Beth – you should check out this article. It is a really interesting overview of some analysis that physicists are doing of ‘the city’. There is a neat bit about planning that kind of deals with your realization here; they see planning as the way to increase our interactions (the evolutionary reason for cities – increase our interactions to increase our innovation) while keeping our discomfort manageable (i.e. keeping us from uncomfortable conflict). But your questions still stand. I definitely avoid conflict and need to reflect on why that is.

    1. This is seriously cool, Jane. Thanks so much. It ties in sooo nicely with what I am exploring this week: little bit of Jane Jacobs and the notion of free will in a city. I love the end of this article: “Cities can’t be managed… they’re just insane masses of people.”

      What if the purpose of planners (if that’s even what we should be called) is to create the conditions for massive interactions? What if our control shifted from endless rules to mindful rules?

      Hmmm You’ve got me thinking some more… Thanks

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