by Nicholas Stanley
Inurbane Urban Life
I’ve been lucky enough to spend Christmas abroad this year. I was in the French Alps, skiing with family. And I did not like coming back to the UK one bit. Not because I was missing the skiing (or the après skiing). It wasn’t leaving the mountains that caused my unhappiness so much as what I came back to, the city.
London is the dream for many people. A multi-cultural, open and varied urban panacea. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, he who is tired of London is tired of life itself. As cities go it is, admittedly, right up there. Yet it was not so much London that was bothering me, as city life in general.
When you spend 95% of your time in a city you become accustomed to its gruff, brash and harsh ways. You accept the noise, the eternal light and the bustle. You become numb to it, which then allows you to see the great side of city life.
But returning from the tranquillity of the Alps with semi-fresh eyes I felt, for the first time, quite how unnatural the city is. Its crude and harsh edges made me wince. Its lack of human rhythm felt like a deliberate, collective imposition. I couldn’t bare the thought of staying for a week, let alone the entirety of my working life, as had been my uncontested assumption until now.
To be close to nature and its rhythm has an intangible comforting and uplifting effect. To wake with the dawn, to spend the dark hours by candle and firelight, to live at a self- determined (and slower) pace and to be free of such oppressive pollution are all part of whatever it is. You don’t notice it appear when you leave the city. But when you come back, that contented, underlying hum goes.
I’m sure there is some science behind the above, and I’m certainly not the first to find cities jarring. And reflecting on what it means for me and my career has been interesting. I now question whether the holy trinity for millennials of city flat, city job and city relationship is for me.
If it isn’t, does that preclude a career in the industry I want to go into?
And if so, which comes first? What I want to do or where I want to be?
Fortunately, forecasts for the advertising industry predict that freelancing will become the norm over the coming half decade. But the flexibility of freelance work doesn’t necessarily allow you to leave the city.
Seeing friends of mine pursue careers in tech and other industries that allow them to live, at least part of the year, in the mountains or even out at sea has certainly given me pause for thought.
‘Tis something I need to think about and it will influence how I go into the next year. It is a long-term consideration and I do still see myself working in a London agency this time next year (all being well).
But whether I am as enamoured with that vision as I once was is something I am now questioning.