Are people less friendly in big cities?


Fact Box

  • Travel and Leisure magazine ranked Buffalo, NY, as the friendliest city in America with “hospitality towards tourists, manners, politeness, warm dispositions, and neighborly love.”
  • The most unfriendly city in America, according to Condé Nast Traveler, is Newark, NJ
  • According to a 2018 Gallup poll, only 12% of Americans would like to live in a big city, while the most sought-after living environment, with 27%, is a rural area.
  • In order to combat its reputation as being a difficult place to meet people, Vancouver, BC, started a successful campaign in 2013 called “Say Hi to a Stranger.”  

Andrew (No)

The idea that people in big cities are less friendly is a misconception driven by two factors: population and proximity. Life in a big city creates a unique kind of anonymity that is impossible to recreate in a small town, where people greet each other on the street each day because they actually know each other. Small populations make each individual small-town dweller much more likely to know his or her neighbors. In a big city, it's simply impossible to know all of one's neighbors.

Big cities offer opportunities to constantly meet new people and interact with new ideas. This can seem intimidating or even scary for some people. Conversely, small towns offer the appeal of never having to leave one's comfort zone. The personal challenge and growth that come with exposure to new ideas can easily be confused with unfriendliness. 

Inhabitants of many large cities are amicable and willing to help guide others. This is especially true of cities known for tourism, such as Amsterdam or Chicago. These urbanites take great pride in their cities and are eager to show them off to strangers.

Not all big cities are equal, and it is too broad a claim that they are all unfriendly. Just as not all small towns are open and friendly, big cities vary in friendliness, with some being very welcoming and others a little more closed-off. 

Unlike small towns, big cities have large populations, making personal relationships with neighbors difficult. The fast-paced and stimulating environments can seem challenging, but many large cities have proud and friendly locals.

William (Yes)

Researchers at the University of Miami investigating this question found that city dwellers face fewer consequences for not being friendly. Additionally, living in a big city influences the polite instincts that humans have honed over thousands of years, causing us to be more selfish towards the strangers we meet because there is no perceived benefit from such interactions. 

Researcher Michael McCullough states, 'people have been trained to act generously through thousands of years of living in small groups.' When early humans lived in small groups, it was easy for everyone to know each other and be kind and cooperative out of 'self-interest.' However, where one lives determines if this 'training' is actually expressed. People in large cities now turn off their 'Stone Age minds' because they encounter so many people daily that they will most likely never meet again. In other words, there is no perceived advantage to showing others kindness in a big-city dweller's mind.  

But aside from the constant bombardment of strangers, American city-dwellers deal with stress that small-town residents aren't exposed to. A recent Wyndham Vacation Rentals survey revealed that in a span of 18 days, city dwellers endure being bumped into 12 times, wait in 15 long lines, miss a city transport 13 times, and are rushed by a stranger 15 times. Overall, city dwellers were twice as likely to say they are 'very stressed' on a typical day. Undoubtedly, this stress contributes to the notion that city dwellers are not known for being friendly.  

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