The City as a Self-Help Book: The Psychology of Urban Promises

21 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2017

See all articles by Rodrigo Cardoso

Rodrigo Cardoso

Delft University of Technology

E.J. (Evert) Meijers

Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment

Maarten van Ham

Delft University of Technology - OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility Studies; University of St. Andrews; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Martijn J. Burger

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Economics (ESE); Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)

Duco de Vos

Delft University of Technology

Abstract

Despite the many negative aspects of life in cities, urban promises of economic prosperity, freedom and happiness have fuelled the imagination of generations of migrants, who have flocked to cities in search of a better life, invariably exaggerating the opportunities and neglected the potential disadvantages of their choice. This paper uses insights from psychological literature to better understand why people have such strong, positive and apparently overrated expectations about cities. We dwell into concepts of bounded rationality to describe the cognitive biases and heuristics affecting decision-making under uncertainty and apply them to the way individuals perceive and act upon the promises of urban life. By linking this literature to urban theory, we can better understand how individuals make their decisions about moving to and living in cities. We thereby offer an understanding of urbanisation and migration processes departing from economic rationality assumptions and explain the remarkable attractive force of cities throughout human history. Finally, we discuss the ways in which human biases in favour of city narratives and bright urban futures can be exploited by 'triumphalist' accounts of cities in policy and media, which neglect the embedded injustices and structural problems of urban life.

Keywords: cognitive biases and heuristics, decision-making, urban migration, social mobility, subjective well-being, urban triumphalism

JEL Classification: O18, R23

Suggested Citation

Cardoso, Rodrigo and Meijers, E.J. (Evert) and van Ham, Maarten and Burger, Martijn J. and de Vos, Duco, The City as a Self-Help Book: The Psychology of Urban Promises. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10693. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2956788

Rodrigo Cardoso (Contact Author)

Delft University of Technology ( email )

Stevinweg 1
Stevinweg 1
Delft, 2628 CN
Netherlands

E.J. (Evert) Meijers

Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment ( email )

Julianalaan 134
Delft, 2628 BL
Netherlands

Maarten Van Ham

Delft University of Technology - OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility Studies ( email )

P.O. Box 5043
2600 GA Delft
Netherlands
+31 15 278 2782 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.maartenvanham.nl

University of St. Andrews ( email )

North St
Saint Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Martijn J. Burger

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) ( email )

Burg. Oudlaan 50
Rotterdam, NL 3062 PA
Netherlands

Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) ( email )

P.O. Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands

Duco De Vos

Delft University of Technology

Stevinweg 1
Stevinweg 1
Delft, 2628 CN
Netherlands

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