Welcome to TheSereneCity.com

Susan Cooke

Cities worldwide are mostly growing larger, and as they grow, many become more stressful to live in, so stressful that they’re making people ill, and according to some research even shortening their lives. I began observing a while back that American cities have their own particular brand of stress, influenced by key aspects of American culture such as living at high speed with little downtime, too little nature and too much industrial noise in our daily lives, and so much connection to screens and devices we can barely catch a breath or think our own thoughts. I began writing the book Stress in the American City in hopes of helping others in American cities (and in cities elsewhere that share our problems) to make city life less stressful, healthier, and happier. I do this by studying research on the major city stresses and also studying other cities and countries that have successfully handled any of these stresses.

Currently I spend much of my time trying to finish the book, yet I do want to start the conversation online as well. Just now I may not be able to write or respond here as much as I’d like to in the near future, but comments will be much appreciated in any case and I’ll do my best to respond when possible. I’m especially interested in what stresses you the most in your own city, and any solutions you’ve seen or heard about that other cities might try. That way we can all learn together and hopefully help our own cities become healthier, happier places.

Finally I want to mention that my comments may seem at times naive to some people. I think it’s necessary to find hope where you can, and I sometimes need to write about some upsetting things people are tired of thinking about (I don’t blame them!) I try to add a positive spin so we don’t all get too depressed about these things, and in fact I  believe that in many cases there are good solutions available to us if we all work hard on it together on them. We’ll need to do that as private citizens, business owners, and government leaders. Some readers have told me they feel more hopeful after seeing some of my comments. Others have said of my perhaps over idealistic notions, “someone does need to say these things,” and have asked me to continue. Whatever your reaction, I hope you can get something worthwhile here–some useful information and some hope–and not think too unkindly of my optimism even if it does at times seem unrealistic. I couldn’t continue if down deep I didn’t believe solutions were possible.


I was born in New York City, raised in Houston, Texas, and now live in the Boston area.


I research and write about stress in cities, especially American cities, and about hunger, homelessness, and changing from a cruel to a kinder culture. I’ve worked on and off (to support my singing habit, mentioned below) as a radio and print news reporter, anchor, writer, and editor on a variety of subjects, often with an emphasis on medicine and mental and physical health. Sometimes I’ll write about current events here, but I’ll also offer some ways we can reduce stress in our cities or wherever you may live. (See my list of anti-depressant movies, for example, or the list of music that helps you work but is calming at the same time.)  At other times I might just tell a story about something I think readers will enjoy. The blog will tell me over time where it’s leading.


In addition to having written about one thing or another for most of my life, I’ve also lived much of my life primarily as a classical singer (opera, musicals, some jazz)and founder, artistic director, and singer with the concert and opera performing group Arte Lyrica (currently on hiatus). We produce intimate narrated song concerts, usually with two to four singers, piano, and sometimes other instruments, and a narration I research and write on the history of the composers, poets, and the times and places in which the songs were written, resulting in such concert titles as “An Evening in Paris,”  “A Salon in London,” or “Songs of Love and War.”

We’re best known for song concerts, plus the U.S.East Coast premiere of Handel’s great opera Rodelinda, edition by myself and conductor/keyboard master Michael Beattie. We also produced Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas and the wonderful comic opera Bon Appetit! featuring Julia Child baking a chocolate cake on TV, by American composer Lee Hoiby (who adored her and her programs). To avoid name confusion in case the reader attended any of our concerts, Rodelinda was produced when we were called Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society, and for a while we shortened that to Cambridge Opera. When operas mostly became unaffordable and we focused more on concerts with narration only, we switched to the name Arte Lyrica.

My husband Victor Preston serves as CEO in charge of all things business for Arte Lyrica, also scenery making, lighting, sound engineering, recording, singer-wrangling, website development and maintenance, co-PR director, co-program designer, and encourager in chief. He is also a software developer and created this blog using WordPress.