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vol.39: utopian cities and disconnection (pt.2 of the third place series)
walks in nature, lindy libraries, & beauty in solitude
Welcome to Wellness Wisdom - A newsletter for the thoughtful by Patricia Mou. A medley of resources and thoughts on wellness start-ups, personal development, mental health and philosophy.
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Hello thoughtful humans!
I’ve been enjoying the slower pace of life back in Berkeley. One thing i’ve been doing is taking nature walks around places I used to frequent as a child and logging my findings in a digital journal.
In the past coming back to my childhood city gave me ambivalent feelings. I was a restless and bored teenager that preferred the dynamism of Oakland and San Francisco nearby.
However, coming back this time feels different. Calm, nostalgic, and brimmed with appreciation for my roots. Can’t help but think that the “place” has always been the same, yet I’ve been the variant. The shifting prism by which experience fractures through. Given that our cells completely regenerate every 7 years, i’m not surprised that I feel like a completely different person now. One who can actually be still and marinate in the beauty of Berkeley’s quaint vibes.
If you’re ever in this part of town, these are my favorite spots: Indian Rock with a 360 view of the bay, 4th Street with the most aesthetic shops, Berkeley bowl with its 50 types of granola, Ranch 99 / Pacific East Mall the unofficial third space for asian-americans, and Albany Bulb a shoreline park scattered with beautiful sculptures and glassy eyed hippies.
Onto today’s newsletter:
how third spaces in America came to be
beauty in solitude
This is Part 2 of “The Third Place” series. You can read Part 1 here.
As a refresher, “The third place” is a concept which identifies places that are not home (1st place) or work (2nd place).
Third places can be churches, coffee shops, gyms, hair salons, post offices, main streets, bars, beer gardens, bookstores, parks, and community centers—
In other words, third places are a community’s living room 🛋️
I’m excited about third spaces because they bolster the mental health and well-being of individuals and communities. Research has shown that they are critical to social connection.
Given 75% of the population will be living in cities by 2050, there is a critical need to revisit third places as a possible contribution to easing increasing levels of anxiety and loneliness.
However, in America, studies suggests that we’ve lost more than half of the casual gathering places that existed at midcentury.
🤔 Naturally, I had just one question: how in the world did this happen?
My search led me to a man named Ebenezer Howard.
Howard was an English parliament man at the height of industrial expansion and population growth in 1850s London. Noise, traffic jams, slums, air pollution, and sanitation and health problems were all commonplace.
In the face of harrowing living circumstances, Howard sought social reform and mingled with free thinkers and anarchists, whose revolutionary ideas greatly influenced him. Among them were Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson - leading thinkers in the Transcendentalist Movement.
They advocated for the inherent goodness of people and nature and believed that while society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent.
Taking this philosophy to heart, Howard penned To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. The book advocated for “Garden Cities” where people lived harmoniously with nature - away from the city, and on their own plot of land.
A Garden City combined the best of town and country in order to provide the working class an alternative to working on farms or in ‘crowded, unhealthy cities.
Structurally, garden cities were self-contained communities surrounded by "greenbelts", containing proportionate areas of residences, industry, and agriculture.
Garden cities would be self-sufficient, though once one reached max capacity, another garden city would be developed nearby.
Howard envisaged a cluster of several garden cities as satellites of a central city of 58,000 people, linked by road and rail.
This movement caught steam and travelled across seas to eventually influence the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1932 he created a utopian “anti-city” called the Broadacre City which encapsulated many philosophies from the Garden City Movement.
Though he died before Broadacre City could be realized, his city influenced many subsequent American architects and urban planners..
One such person was William Levitt.
In 1946, Levitt returned to the US from World War II and had the idea to create the first ”Garden City” in America. He had tried to build similar communities in the past but failed. Now, he was reinvigorated by the Garden Cities he saw in Europe and Wright’s Broadacre City efforts.
He established Levitt & Son’s and the company soon became “the General Motors of the housing industry”. At its peak, a house was built every 16 minutes. Using efficient construction technology and GM-esque production line practices, homes became wildly affordable (the first homes sold for $7,990, about $80,000 today).
In 1952, a “Levittown” city was built in New Jersey.
It was the 1st American suburb.
Many macro trends supported the further proliferation of suburbs.
World War II marked the historical juncture after which informal public life began to decline in the United States. People retreated into their homes on a scale not seen before. This advent of key technology advances and government incentives helped:
Paired with the growing use of the motor car, The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 led to the creation of 41,000 miles of highways, making it easier for people to live farther from work.
The 1948 Housing Bill gave billions of dollars of credit to returning war veterans possible to transition to home ownership.
Radio, telephone, and TV all became ubiquitous.
In a period of relative prosperity, individualism and consumer culture skyrocketed.
Catalyzed by the tides of shifting culture, cities built more and more private suburbs.
Communities were increasingly replaced by separate, quieter, and often homogenous neighborhoods. Mixed-use spaces were increasingly zoned away in favor of strictly commercial or residential uses.
The upshot of all this was an increase in personal space at the expense of daily conversations and serendipitous interactions with people from varying backgrounds. Architected and zoned away from one other, a social price was paid.
By 2010, more than half of the U.S. population lived in suburbs.
Where do we go from here?
And that is very brief primer on the history of the American suburb, its ploy devised a century before its enactment. Its propagation fueled by a line of opinionated urban architects throughout the arteries of history. Its ramifications poignant to this day.
Just as humans create tools that ultimately shape them. Prior cultures influence built environments that ultimately impact our behaviors today.
Nonetheless, do not feel disheartened. History is a pendulum oscillating between utopia and hell. As we will see in the next issue, a new world of community living rooms, both built and virtual, are reinvigorating civic life.
See you in Part 3.
📚 [concept] Lindy Library
An annex of content that has stood the test of time (say, more than 3 years old and still extremely relevant).
The Lindy Effect observes that things that have been around for a while tend to live longer than things that haven't.
Social media biases us towards consuming extremely new content that becomes irrelevant the next day.
A Lindy Library corrects this bias by helping us spend our time on things we are likely to remember and use, thus compounding our knowledge from reading. By sharing our Lindy Library we extend this benefit to our friends.
🧘 [experience] Medicha
Medicha is a 80-minute meditation experience that goes back and forth between a minimalist space and a dark space, guided meditation, and japanese tea meditation.
Tune in & Open up - Experience going back and forth between a minimalist space and a dark space that is wrapped in the starry sky while immersing yourself in sound and lighting.
Shift - is the main guided meditation carried out in a bamboo dome. 6 types of audio guidance, which help you build inner skills to change how you feel, behave and think in your daily life.
Align - drink Sencha tea culture in a modern tea room, with utensils and surroundings crafted by local artists. During this time, gather the vivid emotions and thoughts you felt during the program.
um, sign me up 🙋♀️
🧠 [essay] 30 Years Ago, Romania deprived thousands of babies of human contact. Here’s what’s become of them.
This essay seriously moved me (read until the end).
It also gave me perspective on questions that have long intrigued me:
Are there sensitive periods in neural development, after which the brain of a deprived child cannot make full use of the mental, emotional, and physical stimulation later offered?
If an institutionalized child is transferred into a family setting, can he or she recoup undeveloped capacities?
Implicitly, poignantly: Can a person unloved in childhood learn to love?
📖 [mobile app] Read With Me
Lisa VanDamme started Read With Me to help adults engage with classic literature deeply.
I love this idea and its one I tried to reproduce with my Philosophy Essay Club experiment. imo, adults should have the equivalent of a college discussion groups for the rest of their lives.
Lisa: I know so many people – thoughtful, intelligent, motivated people – who avoid reading the classics. And for understandable reasons: they’re busy, they don’t know what to read, they’ve never been taught how to enjoy it, they have unpleasant memories of tedious discussions in high school English…
At Read With Me, I will guide you through timelessly important and stirringly beautiful works of literature, in a manner that allows you to grasp them intellectually, connect with them emotionally, and, ultimately, learn better how to live.
🔮 [presentation] Omidyar’s Portals to Beautiful Futures
Featuring a series of provocations
What if shared well-being became the standard of success for our nations?
Are we ready to move from an era that rewards extraction to one that prioritizes regeneration?
How will we move from a crisis of destabilizing information into an age of trusted wisdom?
Can we dismantle industrial-age silos between work, home, education, play, and community?
📈 [essay] The Tyranny of Numbers
When a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure.
Once you are longer tyrannised by numbers you will find that intuition, discernment and the appreciation of the intangible, the ephemeral and the beautiful will grow in their place. And cultivating these will lead to more happiness than can be inputted into any spreadsheet or plotted on any graph.
This research surveyed 1,530 Dutch individuals and found that vacationers reported a higher degree of pre-trip happiness, compared to non-vacationers, possibly because they are anticipating their holiday. Only a very relaxed holiday trip boosts vacationers’ happiness further after return.
💌 I curate the most thoughtful pieces on the Internet at Rabbit Holes with Patty. Consider joining if you want to support me as a writer and curator.
🎵 a dark academia playlist to read to ☕️🍁🌙
been reading to this lately
♥️ Living alone in Hangzhou & Shangdong
These videos normalize a solitary life that is still filled with beauty and happiness.
Li Yu, a graduate student at the China Academy of Art, lives in 4-story villa on the outskirts of Hangzhou. He says that instead of toiling for money, he now focuses on the quality of life through his artistic expression.
Hu Shunxiang from Shandong spent all her savings renting a small studio in suburban Chengdu. She has been living there for 7 years on her own.
Thank you for being part of The Wellness Wisdom newsletter today.
I’m Patricia and have a full-time job but curate this newsletter in my free time as a labor of love.
This newsletter is free because I believe everyone deserves to have access to wellness resources. If you want to support this publication, join me down the rabbit hole 🕳🐇.