Just read another interesting Momus essay on Density and Urban Culture. More specifically, I was intrigued by a thread in his discussion board:
"I'm interested in two things about car culture:
1. The way cars are private space encroaching on public space. The more we shift from pedestrian to car culture, the more we eliminate 'public life', at least in its non-electronic form.
2. The way that, appearing less and less in public space, we devote less and less attention to our appearance and to ourselves as actors in 'the theatre of everyday life'. Look at the way chairs in Paris cafes are oriented to the sidewalk, like seats in a theatre! In high density situations, life is a fabulous spectacle, a mesh of freedom, encounters, assembly, of the constant contact with 'the other', of cutting a dash. Our private space is relatively insignificant. We spend little time there. Our life goes on in public. Judged daily by strangers, we vest a lot in our appearance. We try to look good, or interesting. Car culture makes us look daggy and go baggy. We see only significant others, and trust that they're seeing 'the real us' and not our outward appearance. But a dose of theatre -- an audience of strangers -- would actually do us the world of good. It might even change who 'the real me' actually is."
Obviously, car culture has much to do with the rising epidemic of obesity. You don't walk, you sit. You don't burn calories, you add more through a drive-through. But I think he raises an interesting point on personal appearance and how it's tied into the lack of public life. Everyone knows that people in cities dress better than rural or suburban people. Even in America, this is true, even though people in most European cities dress much better than their American urban couterparts. Now, I realize why this is so. In a city, especially if you take public transportation or spend much time in the "public theater" of cafes, bars, restaurants, sidewalks, etc. you are on display, watching others and being watched. In a suburban/rural life you travel from car to home without being seen. You may shop at the Walmart/Safeway but no one looks at you, you scan the shelves without making contact. Existing in your own world, why would you bother to dress decently? Why would you worry about your weight?