“Let Us Build Ourselves a City”
By Awake! correspondent in Germany
THE odds are about even that you live in a city. According to some estimates, nearly half the world’s inhabitants do. One source says that “at the current rate, by the year 2000, cities will have to accommodate over 75 per cent of the population of South America.” It also tells us that during the same period of time, the number of people living in African cities will more than double.
Even if you do not live in a city, chances are you either work in one, travel to do your shopping there, or at least periodically take advantage of the conveniences and amenities that a city offers. Everyone is affected by cities. How different our life would be without them!
A City Called Enoch
The building of cities goes back a long, long way. Of Cain, the first child ever born, we read that “he engaged in building a city and called the city’s name by the name of his son Enoch.” (Genesis 4:17) By building a city, doubtless relatively small by modern standards, Cain set a precedent for future generations.
Gregarious human nature has made people want to be together. This has been not only for the sake of companionship but for a sense of security and protection, especially in past centuries when communities often came under attack. These, however, are not the only factors that have induced men to start building cities.
The World Book Encyclopedia states that there are four main features that have been conducive to the formation of cities. They are “(1) advances in technology [steam-driven machines, electric power, communications], (2) a favorable physical environment [some factors are location, climate, rivers and thus water supply], (3) social organization [authority, government], and (4) population growth.”
Cities have facilitated trade and the concentration of a labor force in one area. Therefore, in many cities we see large low-cost housing developments for the workers and their families. Today, with public and private transport readily available, distance does not impede successful commercial and political oversight. For this reason, cities can spread their tentacles into suburban districts.
Some ancient cities were also closely tied to religious functions. Genesis 11:4 says: “They [people living shortly after the Flood of Noah’s day] now said: ‘Come on! Let us build ourselves a city and also a tower with its top in the heavens [to serve for religious worship], and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves, for fear we may be scattered over all the surface of the earth.’”
Social, religious, commercial, and geographical as well as political aspects have been involved in the building of cities. At the same time, cities have been a major force over the centuries in shaping modern society as we know it and have affected all of us.
Different yet Alike
The New Encyclopædia Britannica notes that “the earliest of man’s fixed settlements are found in the rich subtropical valleys of the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Indus, and the Yellow rivers.” Of course, the forerunners of 20th-century cities were quite different from their modern riverside counterparts.
In past centuries the vast majority of people lived in rural areas. The only major city in England in the year 1300, for example, was London, and its population of less than 40 thousand was well below 1 percent of the country’s total population. By 1650 approximately 7 percent of all the English lived in London. By the beginning of the 19th century, the city was nearing the million mark. Today, less than 9 percent of Britain’s residents live in rural areas. All the rest are crowded into urban centers, some seven million in the metropolis of Greater London alone.
As an indication of the extent that cities have grown and proliferated, in 1900, London was the only city in all the world with a population of one million. Now there are over 200 cities with more than a million inhabitants. Geographers speak of a megalopolis, a chain of connected cities such as that found in the Ruhr region in Germany, where the area along the Ruhr River, from Duisburg to Dortmund, forms one virtually continuous community.
Despite differences, ancient and modern cities have something in common—problems. And never have the problems been so many or so great as they are today. Cities are in serious trouble. If ‘building ourselves a city’ has taught mankind anything at all, it should have at least taught us that, under imperfect conditions and as performed by fallible humans, building cities is not necessarily the ideal way of satisfying our needs.