December 26, 2006

Haven't Got the Time

Are certain cities more laid-back than others? That's certainly the impression I've always had. Tokyo, where I grew up, seems a fair bit more manic, faster-paced, and schedule-driven than, say, San Francisco, and not simply because it's more crowded and chaotic. But how would you measure this sort of thing? Apparently Robert Levine of California State University gave it a try, and it's a nifty little experiment, laid out in his book, The Geography of Time.

Levine looked at thirty-one cities around the world and measured three things. First, he checked how accurate clocks in various buildings were, to see how highly people in each city prized punctuality. Then he asked observers to measure the foot speed of pedestrians who were walking from place to place in each city, controlling for weather, to try to measure the pace of everyday life. Finally, he sent volunteers to various post offices—since how postal workers do more or less the same thing in each country—where they submitted a request for a small stamp and timed the response, as a proxy for working speed.

The results got tallied up, and here are the country ratings, from fastest-paced to most laid-back:
1. Switzerland (Berne and Zurich)
2. Ireland (Dublin)
3. Germany (Frankfurt)
4. Japan (Tokyo)
5. Italy (Rome)
6. England (London)
7. Sweden (Stockholm)
8. Austria (Vienna)
9. Netherlands (Amsterdam)
10. Hong Kong
11. France (Paris)
12. Poland (Wroclaw, Lodz, Poznan, Lublin, and Warsaw)
13. Costa Rica (San Jose)
14. Taiwan (Taipei)
15. Singapore (Singapore)
16. United States (New York City
17. Canada (Toronto)
18. South Korea (Seoul)
19. Hungary (Budapest)
20. Czech Republic (Prague)
21. Greece (Athens)
22. Kenya (Nairobi)
23. China (Guanzhou)
24. Bulgaria (Sofia)
25. Romania (Bucharest)
26. Jordan (Amman)
27. Syria (Damascus)
28. El Salvador (San Salvador)
29. Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
30. Indonesia (Jakarta)
31. Mexico (Mexico City)
I don't know how airtight these rankings are. Having lived in both Dublin and Tokyo, the latter certainly feels much more of a Type-A city, with people always rushing to the next meeting or appointment. People in Dublin seemed to waste a lot more time, linger about more, arrive late more often. But that's just my vague impression. Levine argues that faster-paced cities suffer from greater levels of stress, which in turn leads to higher smoking rights and more heart-attack deaths, although Tokyo seems to be the big exception on the latter (perhaps eating fish oil really does ward off heart disease).

It also seems, to me at least, that fast-paced cities conduct themselves in different ways. Drivers in London, as I recall, tend to lay on the horn and blaze through intersections, and pedestrians plunge through busy traffic just so they don't have to wait for the walk light. In Tokyo, by contrast, people by and large wait patiently for lights to change, and don't seem to use their horns nearly as often, even though traffic moves at a mind-numbingly slow pace. Cultural differences and etiquette no doubt play a role, but perhaps many Tokyo-dwellers, pressed as they might be for time, just have more patience for some things and not others.
-- Brad Plumer 11:50 AM || ||