The Connection Between Place and Behavior


I’m a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I included his book Outliers: The Story of Success in my list of essential reading for Strong Towns thinking because of how it expanded my mind on how people become successful, and what we can do to create more avenues of opportunity.

Those who critique Gladwell for his lack of precision don’t grasp his great gift, which is storytelling. Try standing up in front of an audience for an hour to tell them a story, or try doing the same writing in a major publication, and you’ll quickly learn that detail and precision are the enemy of making a compelling point, one that speaks to a truth that both binds and transcends the technical nuance.

It’s with that spirit that I share this Gladwell keynote speech from the University of Miami. In it, he talks about crime and geography and how the two are linked. As a planner, I very much wanted him to say that crime is something we can solve through good design. As a Strong Towns advocate, I intuitively understand that reality is much more complex.

And yet there’s no doubt that place and behavior are linked. And it should be no surprise to anyone, especially this week with the fire at Notre Dame, that behavior can be influenced in subtle—and often very pro-social—ways through thoughtful design of place.