Home > Tools & Ingenuity > Stranger Encounters Are Good For You

Stranger Encounters Are Good For You

NOTE: This post is later than usual today precisely because, while trying to get home from a morning meeting, I couldn’t help stopping and talking to people. Literally, almost every block I either reconnected with someone I hadn’t talked to in a long time or had a brief encounter with someone I’d never met. It’s demonstrative of the impact of walking and biking.There were even a few friends I saw, and wished I could have talked to, that drove by in cars; oblivious (or avoiding) the surroundings around them. That’s fine, too, catch ya next time.


I’ve been reading and writing a lot about city design and social interaction. Last week’s Monday Crank was all about bumping into strangers; I’m not saying we have to like who we bump into, I’m simply saying that part of the value of city living are those chance opportunities intrinsic in well designed cities. I should have known that there was university class dedicated to the subject.

“I talk to strangers,” begins Kio Stark in a recent article in the Atlantic. The article, titled “Stranger Studies 101: Cities as Interaction Machines,” is a version of her syllabus for a class at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Introducing the class, Stark writes:

Even the simplest exchange among strangers can contain a tangled accumulation of meanings: what transpires may have physical, emotional, social, political, technological and historical dimensions. I show students how to unravel and understand these charged moments.

Sign me up.

Her article is full of resources that she uses in class. One of which is the work on chance encounters by William H. Whyte (whom I quoted yesterday). He was one of the first professional academic people watchers that applied hours of observation to planning the layout of cities. Work like this fascinates because it shakes up what we think we know about human behavior, or at-the-least brings to conscience what our actions really communicate.

For example, below is a short clip of his film “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” where he describes the value of street corners.

Find a street corner, be ready for an encounter or just let it all pass-by.

What did you see observe today? Share your story here.

Another example of Whyte’s work. We meet at corners.

  1. kirstin
    October 6, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    i always thought i was the only person who loved bumping into strangers. Give me a packed NYC subway train and i’m a happy lady (as long as i don’t have a stroller and toddler in tow…) eye contact makes it even more interesting.

  2. Kio
    October 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks, I’m glad you found the syllabus useful!

  3. October 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you, Kio. I look forward to reading more from your BLOG and, perhaps someday, ease-dropping on your class.

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