Urban Identity: Citizens and their Cities

By Harry Verhaar – Head of Sustainability at Philips

Are you your city? Not the usual question one might ask, but in a way, we are all part of our cities, for without citizens, they would not be what they are. The identity of a city bears on the identity of its citizens, and vice versa. The urban environment that makes up cities reflects human needs and values. If you think of three big cities like New York, Tokyo and Amsterdam, the citizens who live there will say that their city is nothing like the others. This is also reflected in the individual: the identity of somebody living in New York is different from somebody living in Tokyo or Stockholm. When we choose to live in cities, it is not for their resources or urban ‘buzz’, it is because we fundamentally identify with them.

We come to love cities because we identify with them, beyond a point of convenience and the fact that cities house everything one might need. People often say “oh I didn’t like that city very much, I didn’t get a good vibe” – the vibe they are talking about is the spirit of the city – and every city’s spirit is different. So when we truly identify with a city, we often decide to spend our entire lives living there. We become part of it, and although seemingly like a cog in the wheel, every single person who lives in a city is contributing to its identity. In a way, cities are just like people. Just like every cell and water molecule makes up who we are as humans, every aspect – building, person, park, lake – of a city makes it what it is. It takes a great deal of time and effort for a person to change their identity, and this applies to cities too.