Psychology and the city – imagining the urban future

  • culture
  • economy
  • environment
  • knowledge society
  • mobility

Have we really invested enough time into understanding the psychology of our built environments?

In two keynote speeches to open the second event in our ‘imagine the urban future’ series of Brussels based seminars, Charles Landry and Chris Murray reflected upon how we interact with space and place. 

“A city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time” – quoting Patrick Geddes, Landry suggested that, while we know cities to be hubs of trade, transport and culture, the sheer weight of what makes a city can lead to a feeling among residents of being completely overwhelmed. We are constantly responding to and interacting with our built environment, which in turn shapes our behaviour.

So what do people need to be content? Landry suggest that five constants (anchorage, possibility, connections, aspiration, inspiration) are important in any activities we pursue.

For his part Chris Murray suggested that we need to start by bring people back into policy making. With so many people now living in cities, we should be considering ‘smart intelligence’ in our buildings, our smart city designs, and so forth to design cities that help us in our human endeavours.

In their book ‘Psychology and the city’, the pair looked into different strands of psychology to map out this argument for designing cities better around human behaviour.

An informed audience of urban experts asked several questions, including whether we are trying to constantly ‘recreate the village’, what role history plays in shaping individual cities’ psyche, and how architecture and city planning affect peoples’ ability to interact on a social level.

In response, Murray quoted a line from their book to suggest we are “living with the mind of a village in the body of a city”. City life is very often about accepting diversity and living with others, which can cause stresses. Many studies have suggested that humans have a natural ability to maintain good relationships with around 150-200 people. We can indeed turn to architecture and understand the role history plays, as is our right to the city…

The pair argued that the biggest resource we possess may be our imagination, which in and of itself could be unlimited. Landry previously coined the term ‘creative bureaucracy’ which understands that people are at the heart of any system or bureaucracy. The pair have worked within and alongside many bureaucracies in their time, and through conversations and research they suggested that there in a lot of untapped human potential within all public environments. With this in mind they have gathered examples of ‘hidden bureaucrats’, around which they will organised a festival in the coming months, to explore potential stories and achievement when we make the turn to truly unleash our potential.


Charles Landry is a reference in the field of creativity applied to urban spaces. He invented the concept of ‘creative cities’ in the late 80s, arguing that cities can create the right conditions for people to act with imagination and innovation to overcome changes and disruptions. 

Chris Murray is director of Core Cities UK, he is an expert on urban issues. He is a visiting Professor of Practice at Newcastle University, an Honorary Fellow of the Heseltine Institute at Liverpool University, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Prime Ministers’ Regeneration Investment Organisation.

This event was supported by the European Parliament’s Urban Intergroup and CEMR.