I'm not going out on a limb here. There are surely some quantifiable studies on social aspects of environment to the ability to think, focus, and be competitive in a capitalistic society. However, because I am a product (currently) of that system...and this is my opinion blog, rather than my professional newsletter...I can say whatever I want.
So I'm saying this. Ugly cities contribute to complacency in people. We settle for what is easy and cheap. It shows in our land layout (urban design); our traffic patterns, landscaping and most of all: our architecture. Who can feel inspired by a strip center? Who wants to go out and see the latest construction of the McDonalds or these days...the Chick-Fil-A? Our urban communities are drowning in land uses which are not going to be sustainable for the next 50, let alone 20 years. How many dead Wal-Marts are there? I can think of about 4 that have yet to be adequately redeveloped. Luckily in Denton the dead K-Mart was finally razed (after 4 years of vacancy) to be developed in what is hoped to be a sustainable mixed-use environment.
What does all this say about our competitive nature in the world economy? We're not willing to create. We're only willing to assemble. The parts of our buildings are pre-arraigned. The shiny metal boxes of our vehicles pumping life-blood of petroleum into the atmosphere. I'm guilty of it as well. I live in a suburban community. Large lot, big house...25 mile commute to work - no HOV for me - I drive alone. That's the choice I have. I would ride the train if I could. It would relax me more I think.
Cities in Asia are planning the future of economics, while Americans want their hamburgers and security devices to keep us safe from "the bad guys". Check out Tony Nelessen's presentation to the Texas APA in October concerning Asian Cities compared to American counterparts.
We need beauty in our cities and our lives. Otherwise we're going to be ground into dust like these buildings will be in the next 50 years.