Landscape Architecture: Cities, Dreams and Mindscapes

Dreamer: Norm American, age 34

My name is Norm and I was wondering if there had ever been or if there is currently a study being done on "dream cities." Both I and my fiancée continually have dreams where we seem to revisit the same streets or hotel, etc., places that we are extremely familiar with, within the dream state.

In one dream I'll revisit the same hotel that I'd been to in past dreams and then other times I walk down the same streets I'd been down in past dreams, etc. My question is, has there ever been a study on taking these recurring places and buildings and trying to recreate a place as I refer to as my "dream city"?

I realize that a house, falling, etc. would have its own symbolic meanings, but what about mapping out, if you would, an entire city.

Would different people have visited the same places as another person, would different people, within the same lifestyles, have similar places yet different from somebody in another lifestyle (possible communities within the same city)?

I guess this comes from is my belief, that there is a higher consciousness of man, that we might all be linked, and that individually one house might be specific to one person, just like the house you live in, in the waking world, but what about a whole city being related to a larger group. Dreams have always intrigued and I would really like to find out if there has been previous or current studies dealing with this topic/concept. If you could please reply and let me know or guide me in the right direction to finding out more it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and look forward to hearing back from you. Curious?!


Mr. Hagen's Reply: Cities, Dreams and Literary Landscapes

One aim of the International Institute for Dream Research is to provide just such a literary psychodynamic mapping. These thoughts might provide some insight.

Sensation Seekers or Information Seeking

The idea that people are driven by the desire to achieve a preferred level of stimulation has been widely investigated by researchers from both psychological and consumer behavior perspectives. The concept of optimum stimulation level (OSL) was simultaneously introduced by D.O. Hebb and Leuba. The basic premise is that people prefer a certain level of environmental stimulation and that behavior will be motivated to attain a pleasurable level of stimulation.

Behavior is triggered by a change in a person's arousal state which is perceived to be less or more than optimal. A person develops and learns to find his own unique and preferred levels of environmental stimulation. People engage in varying behavior (e.g. information search, variety seeking, risk taking, thrill seeking, etc.), in an attempt to adjust their perceived stimulation level to their desired optimal level.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in "Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play" created the concept of "flow": the state of peak performance enjoyment, energetic focus, and creative concentration experienced by such diverse performers as chess masters, composers, rock climbers, dancers, basketball players, surgeons and people generally engaged in "adult play." This concept can be applied to all dreams and dreamers as well.

Environmental Psychology: Urban Landscapes and the Image of the City

Environmental psychology examines the interrelationship between environments and human behavior. The term "environment" in this discipline includes all that is natural on the planet as well as all cultural and social settings, built settings, learning settings and informational settings. Research begun by the psychologist Edward Tolman ("Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men") has shown that environmental information is stored in the brain as spatial networks called cognitive maps. These perceptual structures (cognitive/mental maps) link one's recall of memory/experiences with present situations, thoughts and emotions. Generally, people tend to seek out places where they feel they belong, places where they can make sense of the environment.

Kevin Lynch in "The Image of the City," created the concept of place legibility, which is essentially is the ability with which people understand the layout of a place. For Lynch, to comprehend the layout of a city, people had to create a mental or cognitive map. Cognitive maps of a city are mental representations of what the city contains, and its layout according to the public and the individual. The cognitive map of a city contains an environmental network of paths, districts, nodes, and landmarks. From an artistic perspective this cognitive map provides the foundation for urban landscapes. In this context of landscape art, landscape archetecture is born. It is this mindscape of the city that we find in our dreams.

Cities, Dreams and Literary Landscapes

The rise of the novel in the West during the 18th century coincided with a focus on national landscapes. Landscape in this case refers to imaginary literary settings which today include urban/rural, national/regional, natural/cultural configurations, as well as political, religious and economic images that format the page and the screen of the modern imagination. As novels have portrayed society, cities like New York or Los Angeles have become personified like characters in the plot. Each city has its' own poetic character and personality, just think of Frank Sinatra's New York, New York.

Lewis Mumford in "The City in History: Its Origin, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects" studied the roles played by cities in civilization from ancient to modern times. Mumford employed an important urban metaphor that organized the city, that of the "magnet," attracting both people and ideas. Mumford believed that this metaphor "is all the more useful in description because with the magnet we associate the existence of a 'field' and the possibility of action at a distance, visible in the 'lines of social force,' which draw to the center particles of a different nature".

The metaphoric magnetic field organizes the public's imagination and Marketplace of Thought.

This metaphor is effective and allows for varying and diverse interpretations of this human field of social, economic, military, political, and religious influences each contribute to the magnetizing attraction exerted by the city. David Ley, in his PhD dissertation "The Black Inner City as a Frontier Outpost: Images and Behaviour of a North Philadelphia Neighbourhood" (cited in Peter Gould and Rodney White's "Mental Maps"), proposed that one could chart a mental topography of people's urban fears and stress as well as places of safety. This invisible psychological topography allows people to survive and navigate in mentally and physically dangerous environments that are human constructions of social reality.

Metropolis and Mental Life

There are many geopolitically important global cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Prague, Moscow, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Jerusalem, New Delhi and Peking, to name a few. With the advent of the internet, the traditional magnetizing definitions of physical and poetic time and place have changed dramatically.

As for your question as to how the individual relates to the group, for the sociologist Georg Simmel, impressions from metropolitan life can be contrasted by those of rural life. Each differs in the social rhythms of life and the sensory and mental imagery which flows more slowly or quickly, more habitually or consciously and with more conformity or deviance. The city street conditions and influences the metropolitan daily rhythm, creating a tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social relationships. The metropolis is the place where the division of labour is the greatest and where individuality and individual freedom is most expanded. In the metropolis the institutionalized division of labour demands individuals to be ever more complex in their "social geometry" of relationships (like an anaesthesiologist, surgeon, surgical nurse, etc. participating in an operation). Applying Simmel's work to the understanding of dreams, his work could be used to create an important foundation for understanding the sociology of dream cities. Individuals and groups for Simmel are mediated and defined by the social codes (symbolic interaction) of the city. For a more recent example of this work in sociology see Eviatar Zerubavel's "Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology."

Literature of interest includes:

  • D.E. Berlyne, "Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity"
  • D.O. Hebb, "Drives and the C.N.S.(Central Nervous System),"
  • Psychological Review, 62-243-54
  • C. Leuba, "Toward Some Integration of Learning Theories: The Concept of Optimal Stimulation," Psychological Reports, 1, 27-33
  • P.S. Raju, "Optimum Stimulation Level: Its Relationship to Personality, Demographics, and Exploratory Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, 7, 272-82
  • M. Zuckerman, "Sensation Seeking: Beyond the Optimal Level of Arousal"
  • James J. Gibson, "Ecological Approach of Visual Perception"
  • Edward T. Hall, "The Silent Language"
  • Peter Gould and Rodney White, "Mental Maps"
  • Yi-Fu Tuan, "Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience"
  • J. Hillis Miller, "Topographies"
  • Erik Jonsson, "Inner Navigation"
  • Joshua Meyrowitz, "No Sense of Place"
  • James F. Weiner, "The Empty Place: Poetry, Space and Being Among the Foi of Papua New Guinea"
  • T. Garling and R. Golledge (Eds.), "Behavior and Environment: Psychological and Geographical Approaches"
  • S. Kaplan and R. Kaplan, "Cognition and Environment"
  • D. Stokols and I. Altman (Eds.), "Handbook of Environmental Psychology"
  • Gregory Bateson, "Ecology of the Mind"

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.