The dynamics of the cities and how week, after week, people keep populating them searching for a better life is a popular topic. But what about the opposite? City Quitters: where people go after the city? How is their life once they abandoned the concrete jungle?
Karen Rosenkranz is an ethnographer and trend researcher who investigated to understand what it means to leave the city behind. We reached out and asked her some questions about her latest research, turned into a book “City Quitters, Creative Pioneers Pursuing Post-Urban Life, ” published by FRAME.
Eclectic Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Karen: I’m a trend forecaster, ethnographer, and author based in London. My background is in product design, but I’ve always been more interested in the research stage of the creative process, so it was a natural progression to move into the fields I’m working in now. I grew up in Frankfurt, but my parents are from rural Austria. I’ve lived in cities all my life – mainly Amsterdam, New York, and now London – but I always had a strong connection to my Austrian roots. This ambivalence towards rural life has also fuelled the origin of my book ‘City Quitters.’
Photography: Courtesy of Claudia Rocha
ET: How did you come across the idea of investigating who the city quitters are? Also, tell us a bit about the research as a whole.
Karen: A couple of years ago, some friends of mine working in the creative industry started to move to rural areas. It struck me as a new idea that people were moving to protect their work rather than purely for lifestyle reasons such as bringing up their kids near nature, for example. I was curious about how this new environment might impact people’s creative output.
I saw an opportunity to portray life in the countryside in a way that isn’t tinged with nostalgia or an idealized concept of nature. My goal was to show alternative visions of rural life that combine the traditional and innovative in fresh ways.
The idea started in my immediate network, but then I realized that it’s happening in many places around the world. I ended up with 22 stories of people from 12 different countries and spread across five continents.
ET: A lot is said about the number of people that weekly moved from the countryside to the city, yet not enough about the contrary. Which were the first signals that made you understand that there was a counter-trend there?
I noticed that aspirations were changing. With rising living costs and overcrowding, many people are questioning whether the city is the best environment to establish a sustainable creative practice.”- Karen Rosenkranz
Karen: On top of causing financial anxiety, big cities have become overstimulating and distracting, leaving little time and space for reflection. They are also plagued by a certain ‘city sameness,’ a global homogenous aesthetic fuelled by social media.
I feel there is a lack of experimentation. I realized that people are ditching urban constraints in search of greater freedom, looking for alternative ways of living.
ET: As an ethnographer, what is the most surprising discovery you made while interviewing city quitters?
Karen: Urban and rural life is not so different on a day to day basis. The perceived dichotomy between the city and the countryside doesn’t really exist. The two worlds are more interwoven than we might think.
ET: Can you tell me three main reasons why people leave the city?
Karen: Financial pressure, stress, and symptoms of overworking, and a longing to reconnect with nature and its cycles.
ET: And what difficulties did they encounter, they might have underestimated initially?
Karen: It depends on people’s character and particular living situation. Maintaining a regular income can be challenging at first or finding your feet socially. Often people face very practical problems such as being without electricity or the internet for days, or animals breaking a garden fence or things like that.
In the city, we are used to getting help immediately, but in rural areas, you have to get used to a different pace.
ET: What do they appreciate the most that they could not imagine before?
Karen: Most people realize that they miss the city a lot less then they thought they would. Everybody appreciates meeting people from different walks of life. In the city, we often surround ourselves with very like-minded people, and it’s refreshing to step out of that.
ET: Under a more personal tone, are you a city quitter? If not, has this research prompt to put this topic on the table?
Karen: I’m very much a city person. I love the vibrancy of London and also the anonymity. For us, as a family, London is still a great place to live, but I also feel myself craving nature and wild places more and more. Also, the idea of organizing your life more community-oriented feels very appealing to me.
What I’ve learned from the book is that you have to have a good reason why you’re leaving the city or moving somewhere else. I guess we’re still figuring out what the purpose of a move would be, and whether this would be permanent or a more flexible set-up.
Photography of all images of not stated otherwise: Courtesy of FRAME
Does this research resonate with you?
It does show that our society is in a quest for balance, that there is the need to find a more accommodating pace. City quitters have found out that a calmer pace and a connection with nature enable a deeper relationship with themselves, enhancing creativity. It is applying the “Marie Kondo method” but to all the aspects of your life, not only to our homes. If you are interested in further investigating how interior design is interpreting the need for a more mindful lifestyle, you can take a look at our last trend report, Ceremony 2020/21.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THE GIVEAWAY?
Please leave a comment below if you’d like to win one City Quitters book.
We are giving away two copies.
You can join the draw until this Sunday (March 01), 8 pm (GMT+1).
We are selecting two winners via an impartial and random procedure.
The lucky winners are contacted on Monday (March 02) via email.
Best of luck to everyone!
Update: The giveaway is now closed and we have notified the two lucky winners. Thank you all for participating!