I read a book and listened to a podcast about cities yesterday. I have lived almost my entire life in cities and I have not really thought much about it. What is the purpose of a city? What is a city versus a town? How do humans organize themselves?
Is a human city like a ant hill or a bee hive – a mechanism for communal work? Lets think about what sorts of things that a city presupposes?
A government bureaucracy: When you have a functioning city you need to coordinate at least waste removal and road repair as well as things like a professional police and fire fighter force, then you need a support layer to support these functions. In a village, perhaps you can get away with a volunteer force rather than a professional force. There seems something more of the gift economy than the market economy.
The economy in general: Do people do different things in a city versus a village versus the country? At first people aggregated in cities to work at factories since factories needed a large concentrated labor force, and this is what a city does – it concentrates people in a small area. As economies have shifted towards service jobs, and as transportation has made it easier to locate factories (and workers) outside of cities – cities have transformed to centers of commerce – one big market. In cities, then, most people engage in some sort of service work ( even knowledge work I would call service work) – and this leads to the customer service complex which all urban denizens suffer from. Each person, no matter where they are in the hierarchy, are a utility for someone else. A famous musician is a utility for a wealthy lawyer who wants to throw a party, a wealthy lawyer is a utility for a corporation who is suing another corporation, and so forth. Humanity is stripped away and becomes a series of inputs and outputs to provide help to other people in the city.
The Money economy: A City is impersonal. You do not know most of the people in the city, you may not even know your neighbors. You cannot transact based on trust – enter the money economy. You must work for money, and then spend money. In general you spend money on taxes to support the bureaucracy (point 1). So not only do you have to work for the goods you need to survive, but you have to work to support the city itself.
Why would cities exist? Is this a good thing? There was the notion that now that people can work anywhere cities may disappear or become less important. Instead the opposite is happening. We see an increase concentration of people living in cities. Why is this? My guess is that it allows humans to focus on one particular thing- while outsourcing all other needs to other members of the community. It is almost an instrument for the individualization of a human – if you think that each human should specialize. If you think humans should be generalists – then the city works actively against that aim,