Street Smarts

The Pavement Politics 
of Avoiding Strangers

In less than 20 years, the majority of the world population will be living in cities. Way before that happens, though, we’ve already become skillful at a very subtle art: building invisible walls between ourselves. We do that through a variety of strategies, so to avoid any unintended contact with strangers.
Research now is focused on the impact of such tactics on the inevitable interactions of our daily lives. Thus, what kind of anti-social gymnastics we engage when commuting? How do we intuitively prevent sidewalk collisions? What may disturb this balance and cause us to have our noses broken?
Well, we probably won’t answer these questions to your full satisfaction, mind you. Mainly, because any number of scientific studies required to correctly determine the causes for such street strategy is still being developed through trial and error. And much hasn’t even been correctly formulated yet.
Also, even though most urbanites, which up to 2008 were evenly split with countryside dwellers, have been mastering these techniques out of the need for survival, few are even aware of what they do and why. We just learn very early on that we shouldn’t mess up with people we don’t know, period.
Finally, there’s a multitude of factors that do influence research on human behavior. And in talking about the millions of casual outdoor exchanges we go through in a single day, the element of randomness always accounts for a huge percentage in its final Continue reading