Even though small towns and pre-planned communities I wrote about before offer an interesting context for any environmental psychologist, the appeal of big cities is undeniable. That’s why I’ll research options for a PhD in environmental psychology in two capitals of the world – one traditional and one contemporary – Rome and New York.
Rome panorama; photo by Giampaolo Macorig
It’s hard not to feel like a fragile creature with short expiration date while walking amid stone edifices that stood as silent witnesses of human history for over 2 thousand years. That’s just my experience of the historic center of Rome (listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site), anyway. The feeling is not bad, though. Even without tour guides and guide books, just being there feels like an incredibly enriching learning experience. An experience that is beyond words, for after all, buildings don’t speak in words. Yet somehow, they might be telling us more about mankind than you’d learn from psychology books.
Roman Forum; photo by Benson Kua
While Rome can be the inspiration source for so much more than environmental psychology research, I searched for just that and was happy to find The Doctorate program in Environmental psychology at Rome’s first university, La Sapienza (means “wisdom” or “knowledge”). According to its website, the program relies on established environmental psychological and social psychological theories and studies, such as the place theory – place attachment, place identity, place specific environmental and behaviour and attitudes.
Sapienza university, Rome; photo by iL TimPo…
The University’s Environmental Psychology Research Group investigates pro-ecological attitudes and behavior, sustainability and environmental restorativeness and social psychology of architecture and residential environment.
In contrast to Rome’s image of the eternal city, New York is only four centuries old. For Europeans like me, this notion can be hard to grasp – just about every small town here has quite long history which makes it understandable how place identity and place attachment are so prominent research topics in Rome – both concepts represent something stable and lasting. To get a glimpse to a time when nothing would hint the forthcoming rapid transformation of the quiet woodlands into the world-famous concrete jungle, I encourage you to check out The Welikia Project (2010 – 2013). The project uncovers the original ecology of New York (the 1609 map can be found here; and a short YouTube video here). Just this picture alone is stimulating enough to dwell upon the relations between people and our environment.
Busy, colorful, stimulating, NYC; photo by aftab.
There is a lot to be learned from this city for an environmental psychology student – let me suggest just a few options: you can search for inspiration in distinctive skyline marked by skyscrapers, or tree-lined blocks in neighbourhoods such as Greenwich Village (the model neighbourhood for New Urbanism); you might want to examine how parks and water can enrich urban environment (I find the newly constructed Brooklyn Bridge Park quite admirable); or you can look for environment friendly practices applicable to densely populated areas (e.g. NYC has the highest mass transit use in the US and majority of all households do not own a car thus keeping gas emission levels per capita relatively low).
The Graduate Center, CUNY; photo by Zruda
And just across the street from The Empire State Building, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, is CUNY’s Graduate Center offering doctoral program in environmental psychology. The (research) Center for Human Environments consists of the following sub-groups: the Children’s Environments Research Group, the Health & Society Research Group, the Housing Environments Research Group, the Public Science Project, the Public Space Research Group, and the Youth Studies Research Group. The Center also houses ActKnowledge, a consulting organization that helps putting research findings into practice. Also, news for anyone interested in these topics can be found at Nature, Ecology and Society Colloquium blog.
Whether it’s one of the birthplaces of western civilization or one of the contemporary focal points of culture, economy and social power, getting a PhD in environmental psychology in a big city is a great opportunity for more than what the program itself has to offer. With rapid urbanization, learning from and for cities is a promising way to help improve the quality of life for growing number of people.
Coming up next: Environmental psychology related online courses