A City's Phenomenon - From Impersonality to Loneliness, and the Struggle for Emotional Satisfaction. Characteristics of a Metropolis such as New York.

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

18 Pages, Grade: gut


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. A Profile of New Yorkers - Introducing Eight Million People
1. Social Psychology and Characterization of City-Dwellers
1.1. Unique Urban Characteristics
2. Impersonality, Anonymity, and Isolation and their effects on the urban community
2.1. Mental Health in the Metropolis
2.2. Interim Result

III. Who are the ‘winners’? New York between self-doubt and self- fulfillment
a) Edward Hopper: Biographical Notes
b) “Nighthawks” and its Interpretation
c) The Metropolis as Living Space for Fringe Groups
d) Terminus Metropolis: Destiny of the Elderly

IV. Conclusion


I. Introduction

New York City probably is one of the most famous cities of the world, especially known – among other things – for its diversity, size, and way of life. With a population of 8,09 million people and an annual increase of 108,500 people[1] as an average value, New York is a prime example for a modern metropolis of the 21st century.

Such a metropolis typically displays numerous characteristics which are not – or just partly – applicable to a small town or to country life. No matter where many people live together, a typical life in a metropolis develops which considerably affects (especially elderly) people and influences their psychological or mental development.

In literature and arts, keywords such as ‘loneliness’, ‘solitude’, or ‘isolation’ frequently turn up as side effects of living in a metropolis (such is the case with Edward Hopper, for example) and several studies took a close look at the question whether or not living in a metropolis makes people mentally sick.

This academic assignment will try to design a characteristic picture of a city-dweller and the typical problems of living in a metropolis. Hereby, I will focus on the city of New York on the one hand, and on the psychological aspects in humans living in a metropolis, on the other hand.

Under these aspects, I will furthermore try to analyze Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ (1942), and complete this academic assignment with a look at fringe groups and their status in a modern metropolis.

II. A profile of New Yorkers – Introducing Eight Million people

With an estimated population of 8,09 million people, New York City holds rank sixteen of the largest cities worldwide, and even rank two of the largest metro areas in the world with 30,1 million people in the New York City and Philadelphia area[2]. To begin with, when we are talking about a ‘metropolitan area’, we mean in general terms “a city and the surrounding developed and developing territory. It is a metropolis functionning as a labor market and retail trade area regardless of governmental boundaries. It usually has cultural institutions serving the whole area, and people have a sense of identity with the area, and if asked while a thousand miles from home where they come from, the will commonly give the name of the central city even if they live in the suburbs” (Hallman 1977: 15).

Probably the most popular borough of New York is Manhattan. More than half its households consists of people living on their own, twice the population of any other borough and over 12 percent of its households had incomes exceeding $25,000 in 1970, nearly twice the proportion in Queens, the second wealthiest borough (Hacker 1975: 42). Representing less than 20 percent of the population of New York, “Manhattan contributes a disproportionate share of those people we associate with the cosmopolitan aspects of city’s life, but whether it has the preponderance of such individuals is difficult to say” (Hacker 1975: 43).

With a number of 2,61 persons per household and a median household income of $43,393, New York shows a percentage of 14,6% persons who live below poverty, and 12.9% of New York’s citizens are 65 years old or over[3]. In a city with a death rate of 32,000 each year, “8,000 people die of murder, suicide or just lonely in their appartment”[4]. Assumed that an unneglectable number of those 8,000 people die of sicide and/or lonely in their appartment, the question remains whether or not this is the result of a typical phenomenon of a metropolis and if living in a metropolis makes people mentally sick. Srole, Fischer, and others have narrowed these and other questions in their work Mental Health in the Metropolis – The Midtown Manhattan Study (1978). Before I will present their findings, I will in the following type the characteristical city-dweller and summarize the main aspects of living in a metropolis.

1. Social Psychology and Characterization of City-Dwellers

Probably the most itself-suggesting reason for the migration from the country to the city is the fact that due to the inopportune technical and economical structure of the country, the cities verbatim became ‘the land of unlimited possibilities’ (cf. Hellpach 1952: 33). Although the situation has positively changed within decades, this image of the metropolis can still be found in today’s society, where a higher unemployment rate or a more feeble infrastructure – as regards public transportation etc. – can still be hold to be applicable to the country more than to the city. As a result, more and more people move from the country into the city.

According to Hellpach, one characteristic of a metropolis is the element of quantity which he claims to be the first essiantial element for a ‘mental living together’ in a big city (cf. 1952: 67). The second characteristic element would be narrowness or proximity including a never ending movement, mass dynamics, and rotation, i.e. one figure is continuously followed and replaced by another (cf. Hellpach 1952: 67).

The afore mentioned characteristics can probably be described to be more socio-physical facts. Apart from these, Hellpach says that “haste is an essential part of urban living” (1952: 68) and that “a city-dweller accelerates his ‘speed’ on all levels of life. He would not be able to manage his everyday life if he took his time. [...] It is his everyday life which makes him faster – not only physically, but also psychologically faster – as he catches up, decides and reverses faster” (1952: 68 – 69). Maybe Hellpach puts it best when he says: “[...] Nirgends sonst sind sich so viele Mitmenschen äußerlich so nahe und innerlich so fern, sind ihre Augen füreinander so aufgetan und ihre Gemüter füreinander so verriegelt [as it is the case in a metropolis]” (1952: 73). This is what he terms ‚interpersonal alienation’. In his view, haste and interpersonal alienation condition each other (cf. 1952: 73).

If we pass this on to New Yorkers it seems contradictory to some extent that in a city where eight million people live together, we should speak of ‘alienation’ when people live so closely together. In Hellpach’s view, haste is here what distorts the proximity and causes this ‘interpersonal alienation’.

1.1. Unique Urban Characteristics

While Hellpach concentrates – as explained earlier - more on the criterion of size and density, Reiss contradicts by saying: “Empirically, at least, ‘urban’ can be independent of size and density. If this is true, then large size and high density of settlement are not always conditions for an urban way of life in any given community” (1955: 43). He concludes: “The size and density of a settlement are supposed to affect the way of life carried on with it. Thus cities are frequently said to be characterized by an increase in social heterogeneity, impersonality and anonymity of interpersonal relations, toleration of social differences, social and geographic mobility, participation in voluntary associations, and the indirect control of human behaviour. These are thought to be unique urban characteristics” (1955: 43 – 44).

In my opinion, the criterions of impersonality and anonymity – and even loneliness and isolation – stand central not only to the definition of what is a metropolis but also to the urban way of life in general. Perhaps even more than to life in rural communities. Therefore, I will in the following take a closer look at these aspects. Thereby, I will concentrate more on the effects of urban impersonality, anonymity, and isolation on the city-dweller rather then to discuss only sober definitions of these terms.


[1] numbers taken from Empire State Development, State of New York. New York: U.S. Department of Commerce/Bureau of the Census, 2003 (http://www.nylovesbiz.com/nysdc/StateCountyPopests/ nyscomp.pdf) and from http://worldatlas.com/geoquiz/thelist.htm (see appendix)

[2] cf. http://worldatlas.com/geoquiz/thelist.htm

[3] cf. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36000.html

[4] numbers and facts taken from http://www.kabel1.de/info/doku/links/index.php?21419 (see appendix)

Excerpt out of 18 pages


A City's Phenomenon - From Impersonality to Loneliness, and the Struggle for Emotional Satisfaction. Characteristics of a Metropolis such as New York.
University of Cologne  (Englisches Seminar)
"New York just like I pictured it: Skyscrapers and everything..."
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City, Phenomenon, From, Impersonality, Loneliness, Struggle, Emotional, Satisfaction, Characteristics, Metropolis, York, Skyscrapers
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Christian Hensgens (Author), 2005, A City's Phenomenon - From Impersonality to Loneliness, and the Struggle for Emotional Satisfaction. Characteristics of a Metropolis such as New York., Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/39517


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