City Literacy

For a while, I’ve believed that there is a set of skills about how to live and navigate in larger cities. I call it roughly “city literacy,” and have noticed that some people have it, and others do not. This has been brought home to me over the past week, when I’ve been traveling in Japan with my parents and occasionally a native Japanese.

My parents live in a very small town. They have little need to understand the basic “design space” of a city and urban amenities. For instance, there are only a few general ways that subways do fares, in terms of determining the fare amount for a given journey as well as the payment mechanism. Once you know the general ways, the nuances of a specific city are fairly easy to recognize. Another, more subtle example is knowing roughly where to look for particular pieces of information: street signs, directional signs, etc.

My parents don’t have this literacy. I seem to have it. Of course, they have a rural literacy that I totally lack. However, a really obvious follow-on question is if this is something that can be taught, or if it is a form of implicit knowledge that requires experience to acquire?