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Success and the city

Cities are distracting? Perhaps. But they are also vital engines of human progress and culture.

It may come as a shock to urban dwellers, but researchers from the University of London say living in a city affects a person's ability to concentrate. Need us to repeat that?

The BBC reports that psychologist Karina Linnell gave the same cognitive tests to people from the Himba tribe in rural Namibia, Himba members living in cities, and a cross-section of young people living in London. The rural folk performed best, with Dr Linnell concluding that city people had too much stimulation to be able to focus on one task.

But this research overlooks an important truth: in the long history of mankind, it was the relatively recent gathering together of people in towns and cities that drove important scientific and technological advances. The knowledge-sharing that took place at the academies of ancient Greece and the library at Alexandria, as well as the trade that flourished in Mesopotamia, would have been impossible without cities.

Cities have been at the heart of human discovery and human society; arenas for the formation and propagation of great ideas and great virtues.

Closer to home, it is impossible to imagine the continuing success of the UAE without the growth of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, two very different cities that have been magnets for the best and brightest in the world. If the diversity of city life is distracting, then that should be seen as a measure of success, not a sign of failure.

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