In last week's New Yorker, science writer Jonah Lehrer presents an interesting correlation between creativity and physical space. He sums it up with a quote from Isaac Kohane, a Harvard Medical School researcher: "Even in the era of big science, when researchers spend so much time on the internet, it's still so important to create intimate spaces."
While the article focuses mainly on corporate creativity, e.g. how Steve Jobs famously installed Pixar's only bathrooms in a central atrium to foster random interactions, it did lead me to wonder about whether public space (a neighborhood, even an entire city) can affect creativity. And since I live and work in New York, where I've often had to go out of my way to find "creative" workspaces, I often wonder if my city is a place that nurtures the kind of "frequent, physical, spontaneous interactions" (as Kohane puts it) that lead to good ideas.
Perhaps it's hard to project this idea of creativity-fostering spaces onto a metropolis, since Lehrer's notion really applies best to specific goal-oriented tasks like designing electronics or putting on a musical. But the subject of creative spaces is a salient economic one for recession-hobbled hubs like New York, where rent prices reach record highs each year, forcing previous bastions for creative interaction—libraries, coffee shops, bookstores—to shutter, which in turn forces many writers, designers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs to work and scarf their morning oatmeal from the same tables. Or beds.
And if we are forced, by poor occupational choice and/or laziness and/or an ailing cafe industry, to work from home, shouldn't we be seeking out the most generative and creative parts of our apartments? The Paris Reviewblog suggests we might get special mojo from peering out of windows. For my money, I think the bathroom will become for a new generation of NYC creatives what the garage was for Silicon Valley: a "Low Road" structure that, as Lehrer paraphrases it, accidentally becomes a hive of innovation, "a type of space that is unusually creative because it is so unwanted and underdesigned."
After all, the bathroom lives up to Lehrer's idea that the places you'd least expect to be creative are often where the most exciting stuff can happen. Or so he thought, flushing and releasing a jet of air freshener into his own eye.