Not an urban legend: cities are stressful

Stressing you out since 1950's

This article from The Economist reminds me of an icebreaker question people ask me when they discover that I am new to the city: What do I like least (and best) about Washington D.C.? To remain consistent with the article, I’ll stay negative for now.

It is the blaring sirens that slowly pierce my peace whatever time of day. I don’t hear it now that I am in my apartment (I just did as I am typing this line- no kidding!). I heard it frequently when I lived in Dupont Circle, and still do when I am in my office downtown. It’s gotten so bad (or good?) that I just assign it to ambient noise. It’s a different story when I am on the street. They are so loud that I have to cover my ears as the Doppler effect rings the highest registers of the decibel scale and takes its auditory assault.

Three things come to mind when I hear the siren: (1) something serious is actually happening, may it be a fire, a medical emergency or a police response, (2) Obama’s entourage is coming or (3) to announce police ‘visibility’, and send a (false) sense of security (If you’re in the Philippines, another reason is to get ahead of a heavy traffic, but that is another story).

I should not be complaining, as I’ve lived in big cities most of my life, save for my university days in laid-back Los Banos. Maybe I am still adjusting from living in the ‘quiet’ cities of Germany. There I barely heard sirens, and in those rare occasionsΒ  people would give a worried look as they watch and listen to a vehicle sounding off a siren and zoom by. They know it must be something really serious.

The next time I encounter these ear irritants, I just have to remind myself that this comes with the territory of living no more than six blocks away from the office, a hospital, and a cinema. I’m still a big fan of city-living for the accessible services, efficient transportation, and cultural offerings it has.

67 thoughts on “Not an urban legend: cities are stressful”

  1. I agree with you that big city provide culture and accessible service. but for the transportation it’s hard to say. small city may more convenient for transportation. less traffic jam , no metro, and so on….:D

  2. I live in the suburbs of DC. I think it’s the perfect environment for me. I have the cultural activities of the city close by without all of the noise and crowds.

    DC is a beautiful city though and I’m sure it’s nice to be a few minutes away from everything. πŸ™‚

    1. It is amazing to be right in the heart of everything but it breaks one’s bank account. I also cringe every time I hand in my rent for the month.

  3. i know a city that is not stressfull. it is called port elizabeth and is on the south east coast of south africa. you can google it. it is the best city in, well, africa.


  4. I visited Washington, D.C. once before and it seemed like there was always sirens going off for something. I’ve never lived in a big city, generally small little towns, so I don’t see/hear them too much.

  5. Guess with all the guvmint stuff going on, there are lots of sirens in DC. I live a few blocks from a firehouse, but after awhile you don’t really hear it. But then, where I live is substantially quieter than DC.

    I like your caption too.

    1. Yes, but that would look weird while walking down the street or in the office! I’m glad I don’t have to wear one while in my apartment.

  6. This is a great post about D.C. living! We recently relocated from D.C. to Melboune, Australia and after about a week here my husband remarked, “you know, I havent heard a single siren since we’ve lived here!” It was very much a part of the ambient noise of D.C. But every city has its quirks; here, we hear the constant whirring of helicopter blades, as police patrol the city from the sky and rich executives who live on the beach avoid the crowded highways and fly into work for the day!

  7. Living in the city we are constantly flooded with distractions- be it the noise, traffic, shopping attractions etc that it is nowadays not actually a feast for our senses but rather a flood of noisy clutter. In the country, time stands still and we can appreciate our connection with nature:)

  8. I think about a policy on it, but then I frequently see folks walking out into oncoming traffic while on their phones or jammin out to their iPods… and I end up thinking if they weren’t as loud as they are now we’d have a lot more dead pedestrians in the city.

  9. the sirens here in DC seem especially high pitched and painful when I’m out on the street. Great article

  10. Those darn sirens drive me crazy too. I live a couple blocks away from a hospital so I hear them often. My dog goes crazy every time they drive past which gets the kids going as well. Not fun!

  11. I really appreciate your writing. Very easy to follow and yet very articulate and profound. Thanks for writing and sharing. Good stuff.

  12. I just got home and was surprised to read all your amazing comments! Thanks everyone! Don’t get me wrong, I do like DC but the sirens just drive me nuts!

  13. agreed. sirens kind of make the ideal big city seem depressing. This is why I live 45 minutes away from the city so that I have my quiet town, while still being close to the hype city lights

    1. That is a good compromise. But here in the US one needs a car if one were to live in the suburbs. I am for mass public transportation though! If the metro connections here are reliable then we can talk!

  14. I live in VA but work in D.C. The thing I like the least (or should I say, hate the most) is the crappy sidewalks! Those hidden holes and loose bricks have ruined several pair of great heels. I’m thinking of dedicating a blog post to it…

  15. I actually like the sirens. I went to GW for undergrad, and lived very close to the hospital for several years. After moving to VA, I discovered that it was hard to sleep because I’d gotten so used to the sirens that it was weird without them.

    1. Now that is funny! I am sure you don’t like it in the middle of the night. I also now live in the GW campus. So far the GW students are not so loud (maybe because all of them are away?).

  16. I have grown up in the city – well just outside of it, near Finch Subway station – Toronto, Ontario. I even went to school where i was able to continue living in a city – just a smaller one – Ottawa. Maybe i’m immune to the noise and commotion, but I think it makes a place more interesting. The chances of you knowing where that abulance is going are very slim, unless it’s being simultaneously reported on the news which sometimes it is. I love the city. The culture, the events, how accessible it is to get around without a car, and YES the sirens and hustly/bustle of the people in the streets. Just saying.. πŸ˜‰

    1. You are right, Dee. Like what I wrote, I have lived in big cities most of my life (i.e,, Manila, Hamburg, Washington D.C.). Washington D.C. is sometimes loud, but it is a monastery compared to Manila!

  17. I love sirens because of the association with action.
    But I also find city life (in London) stressful, mainly because of too many people and too much time spent going from one place to the next.

    1. Hallo, Andreas, wie geht’s? I have never been to London. I heard it’s an amazing city. I love Berlin, it is bustling and vibrant, but not so loud and I’ve never heard sirens in that city!

  18. I live in London (UK) and being the huge melting pot that it is… it has many fine points and many reasons why it is considered one of the best cities in the world… but man, is it crowded… people EVERYWHERE… and not just people… but crowds… like cannot move forward type of crowds… Sunday markets, the tube, any event etc etc. That stresses me out. every outing becomes an ordeal… almost…

  19. i used to live vis-a-vis the fire department… and now i live vis-a-vis blood-denor center, so i hear sirens a few times a day. horrilbe thing, because each time, i think about someones trouble. it’s also a great reminder: be aware, it could be you!

  20. I know what you mean about the sirens. But, I kind of love them. I lived in Atlanta for years and when I heard them, it let me know the city was alive. I recently moved back in with my parents in the ‘burbs and the lack of sirens and noise in general makes it hard for me to sleep.

    1. Maybe people who have lived in ‘burbs and rural areas who moved to a big city would either love the sirens (like you!) or find it nerve-wracking.

  21. I concur. Cities are stressful but when I’m on holiday in the countryside, I long for a honking horn and hustle and bustle and trains and cars and ferries and the harbour. I guess some people can’t be made happy.

  22. I like visiting the city (or downtown), but I prefer living in the suburbs b/c it’s more quiet—very few sirens (if there is a siren, it causes quite the buzz)! I also can’t stand the traffic, crowds and gridlock that comes with a city. BUT when I want culture and diversity, downtown is only the place to go! πŸ˜‰

  23. I’ve never heard so many sirens in my life than when I bunked with my college best friend in DC, who was a White House intern one summer not too long ago…

    I blamed it on the president. Perhaps it’s just that a city is a stressful place?

    Fun post — thanks for the reminder.

  24. Love the caption on the photo!!

    Yes, sometimes living in big cities sucks (I usually think that around 2am when I hear either sirens or people screaming at each other), but it’s so worth it, no? πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for the comment! It is so worth it. But I’m glad I no longer hear sirens at 2am. When I lived in Dupont Circle, I would hear sirens and even people shouting and fighting in the middle of the night.

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