The story is told of a man who stood, day after day, by the doors of a bank of elevators in a New York skyscraper. Asked why he loitered there for hours on end, he replied simply: 'I wait for people to brush past me - I just need to be touched.'
The story may well be apocryphal but its central theme, urban isolation, will resonate with many Americans as they consider the dramatic tale of three young women released from virtual slavery on Monday evening.
The three women were kidnapped by three brothers who are now aged in their fifties and held captive for the best part of a decade. The mother of one of the victims died in 2006, heartbroken by the belief that her daughter, though perhaps still alive, might never be found.
Aside from the obvious questions about what motivates men to behave in such inhumane and depraved ways, we should also consider the question of how the neighbours remained unaware of the situation for so long.
News reports emerged yesterday in which people living nearby claimed to have seen naked women in the garden. Other reports spoke of a small child who was seen looking out of an upstairs window during the day, apparently without adult supervision.
Apparently, though, nobody had any inkling of the sinister goings on within the otherwise typical suburban property.
Doubtless this sorry episode will remind many of the story of Elisabeth Fritzl who was held by her father in a four-room basement for twenty-four years. In that time she was raped repeatedly so that she bore him seven children, one of whom died.
She was in her forties when finally released from her ordeal.
Generally speaking, Austrians are famously somewhat insular and reticent to get involved in the affairs of others. Yet it would be unfair to characterise the people of the Austrian village as being in any way complicit in the crimes committed by Ms Fritzl's father.
The same can be said of the inhabitants of this particular part of Cleveland.
Yet we might ask why, when our communication technology far outstrips anything available to our forebears, we don't seem to be any better aware of our surroundings. Indeed, in some cases we may be less aware, not least because of the pressures associated with urban growth and our growing engagement with the cybersphere.
Urbanisation is a wave that’s building worldwide. Already 50 percent of the world's population lives in cities. By 2015 most of Africa will be living in urban centres and ten years later, more than 60 percent of Indians will also live in cities. By 2030, the global population of cities will surpass five billion.
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