Two Studies Find Mean Streets In US Cities, but Kindly Ones, Too
BOSTON — IF you've had it up to here with hostile people, stay out of Philadelphia. But if you're looking for the milk of human kindness, you should head for Rochester, N.Y.
These are separate conclusions from two studies of American cities, one measuring hostility levels in selected cities and the other assessing urban acts of kindness.
Philadelphia - the erstwhile City of Brotherly Love - according to the Gallup Organization in New Jersey, isn't. But Rochester, according to a study by California State University (CSU) at Fresno measuring acts of kindness in 36 cities, is the top city in giving, helping, and caring.
New York City, legendary for its crusty abruptness in human relations, hangs on to its reputation in both studies.
The overarching factor that contributes to hostility and alienation, according to the studies, is the high density of the population, or the way urban people are crowded together. This may be the fundamental seedbed of rudeness, which falls harder on strangers than anybody else.
Cramped and grumpy
According to the studies, too many people living in tight places often leads to short fuses in human relations. But there are exceptions. Several cities with much less density than cities in the eastern corridor of US are rated poorly in the studies.
``Policies that reduce noise and crowding, and increase the safety of the streets [as well as] encourage greater civility and social connectedness, will not only improve the quality of life, but the length of life as well,'' says Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University Medical School, the director of the Gallup study.
According to the Gallup study, after Philadelphia, the next four most hostile cities are New York, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. Of the 10 cities surveyed, Honolulu was the least hostile.
And after Rochester in the CSU study, the kinder cities in order are East Lansing, Mich., Nashville, Tenn., Memphis, Tenn., and Houston.
Robert Levine, head of the psychology department at CSU, sent teams of volunteers to conduct six different experiments to judge ``helping behavior'' in cities across the US.
The experiments included asking pedestrians for change for a quarter, feigning an injured leg to gain help, dropping a pen in front of a pedestrian, posing as a blind person seeking help to cross the street, placing a ``lost'' letter on a car windshield to be mailed to the researcher's address, and measuring United Way contributions in all the cities based on per capita income.
By comparing the frequency of the friendly responses in each city, the rankings were established.
In asking for change for a quarter, researchers had nearly 80 percent of people on the street respond favorably in Louisville, Ky., but only 11 percent of people in Paterson, N.J.
And Fresno, Calif., an agricultural community with a population of nearly 320,000, was ranked last in two of the six experiments. People in Fresno were least likely of all cities to mail the ``lost'' letter. And the city's per capita contribution to United Way was one-tenth the amount given in Rochester.
Rochester's helpfulness apparently is historically ingrained in the city's culture. In 1941, the city was ranked No. 1 in a similar study. Some sociologists trace this tradition of giving to George Eastman of Eastman Kodak, who gave money and created services in the city for many years.
In concluding that Philadelphia was the nation's most hostile city, Gallup used telephone interviews with approximately 200 adults in each city for a total of 2,125 interviews. A series of questions was asked to measure ``anger, aggression, and cynicism.''
A sample question: ``You are in an express checkout line at the supermarket and a sign says `no more than 10 items, please.' Are you more likely to: a) pick up a magazine to pass the time, or, b), glance to see if anyone ahead of you has more than 10 items.''
The ``less hostile'' answer is ``a.''
The Gallup survey was attempting to establish a link between cities with high death rates and greater rates of hostility. ``The angrier people are and the more cynical they are, the shorter their life span,'' Dr. Williams said.
Writing in her book, ``The Power of Place,'' Winifred Gallagher states that 30 years of research has shown that urban environments ``can reinforce good behavior as well as bad.'' Simple improvements like landscaping, color, and architectural setting ``can help the community control and decrease crime.''
She writes, ``Part of the tragedy of the cities isn't that no one knows what to do about them, but that we know some things that could help yet haven't done them.''