Two Studies Find Mean Streets in US Cities, but Kindly Ones, Too

By David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 1994 | Go to article overview

Two Studies Find Mean Streets in US Cities, but Kindly Ones, Too


David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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. …

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Two Studies Find Mean Streets in US Cities, but Kindly Ones, Too
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