Outlook Tower

- Recommended Reading -

Emotional Intelligence

Goleman, Daniel
Emotional Intelligence New York: Bantam Books, 1995.


Daniel Goleman makes a case that our emotional literacy, our ability to recognize and manage emotions, will better serve us in meeting life's challenges than a high intelligence quotient. I would further argue that a lack of emotional intelligence on the part of society has had a tremendous influence on our urban form and that bad urban form in turn reduces our chances at achieving emotional literacy.

The book traces many current day societal problems (e.g. teen violence, unsuccessful partnering, low productivity in the work place) to the conflict between the portions of the brain governing reason and those that are centers of instinctive or emotional response to situations. The fact that our minds are wired to respond to threats much more quickly than our intellects may lead to an 'emotional hijacking,' the worst of which may lead to terrible crimes of passion. Following an emotional impulse may lead to behavior that is more appropriate to a primal encounter than to any likely modern day situation.

Goleman discusses five areas of emotional intelligence: knowing our emotions, self-control, the ability to motivate ourselves, empathy for the emotions of others, and social competency. One of the many examples that he uses is a study in group dynamics which showed that the most important factor in producing an excellent team product was not the IQ of team members, but "the degree to which the members were able to create a state of internal harmony, which lets them take advantage of the full talent of their members."

Cities are from one perspective a work product that involves every member of society. Far from there being any one master builder stamping his vision onto the ground, urban form is slowly built up from innumerable individual decisions. I think that the quality of the resulting urban environment is a fair measure of our success at harmonizing as a society. This would explain why some cities and neighborhoods feel right. We are intuitively attracted to a San Francisco streetscape in a way that we are not attracted to a mall, strip center or convenience store parking lot.

Goleman has a limited set of prescriptions to remedy our loss of social skills, most of them having to do with the primary education system. Childhood represents a window of opportunity during which we gain most of our social skills. As we move into adulthood, our behavior tends to become fixed and changing it becomes a painful process of reeducation. Emotional illiteracy may be passed on and possibly aggravated from generation to generation. By teaching emotional literacy in the classroom, we may be able to compensate for skills that are not being acquired at home.

I would argue that these competencies could be encouraged in all our interactions, but that we are limited by the shape of our cities. Good urban form is necessary, but not sufficient. For example, schools, markets and city centers should function as social focal points where our young can safely practice their social skills. The isolation provided by gated communities, malls and strip centers, income segregation and private schools don't doom us to emotional illiteracy, but they do greatly reduce our chances.

Emotional Intelligence provides food for thought for urban planners, particularly those concerned with community building and the planning process.