Be prepared, this is a very nasty, critical commentary. The so-called “modern” city is doomed. Not just here in the Fifty States, but in many other places on this planet of ours. (Although American cities seem to be leading the way to destruction and death – not damnation: that is already a reality.)
Don’t get me wrong: there are many, many good things about cities. But the downside rules. Cities are bad for people: their health, their attitude, their futures. And especially for their liberties, their freedoms, and their success. More and more Americans seem to realize this, and are fleeing the cities. Not just as they have done for decades, to the suburbs. But to truly rural areas, and even more to frontier areas.
Sadly, such massive migration often brings all the troubles and attitudes of the Big City to the rural areas. Ultimately, such might destroy them as well – and civilization along with it. But the less massively-populated areas have (literally) the room and the resources (and the courage and brains) to rebuild and create a new civilization. Maybe even a better one!
Why do I come down so hard on cities? The last 50 years of events demonstrate the severe disadvantages that come with living cheek-to-jowl in the human anthills of modern megalopoli. And even more the smaller cities: I draw the line even at as few as 100,000 denizens at a density as low as a thousand people per square mile. (Doing the math, that is 100,000 people living in an area 10 miles by 10 miles.)
It is not just the physical stench, the air pollution and water pollution. The trash and crime and noise and such. It is the MENTAL stench: the fear that permeates the cities, the anger that is constantly right below the surface, the violence that can (and does) blow up any time.
It is nothing new: the problem has been there since the days of Jerusalem, Rome, Alexandria, and Corinth. Although we can’t know, I suspect it was no different in Cahokia (Illinois, 1200s-1300s) and certainly was the situation in Tenochtitlan (ancient Ciudad Mexico) and probably Bekan and Caracol (Mayan).
I’m writing from my own experience, as well as that of history. I’ve lived a fair number of years in a fair variety of urban areas, from the Ruhrgebeit on the Rhein in Germany, to Northern Virginia around DC, to the Front Range of Colorado (Metro Denver and Northern Colorado) to San Francisco itself.
I think the old classic song from Chess has it right. One Night in Bangkok has the words, “Whattaya mean? You’ve seen one crowded, polluted, stinking town…”
Cities are indeed full of opportunity, without doubt. But they are also full of danger. Not just physical danger, although that is very important, and usually much greater than in rural and frontier areas. This was not always the case, of course, and still is not in much of the world. But in the First World, at least, there is much less crime in rural areas than either suburban and urban areas. And very much less in true frontier areas. Not nonexistent, but very low by both modern and old-time standards.
But the greatest opportunities seem to be grifters of all sorts. On all levels, from the “big government/big business” end of things right down to the permanent underclass. Not just the criminals, but the welfare parasites, whether they live off of high-end government contracts (Beltway Bandits and their kin) right down to the food-stamp, Section 108 rental subsidy people. I am not saying that ALL those (either end of the wealth chart) are criminals as we usually define them. But there seems to have a higher percentage of “evildoers” in urban than rural areas.
All of which indirectly touches on the Doom of the Cities. Widespread criminal behavior erodes trust in society: you are constantly on the lookout for those trying to rip you off. And the example (remember that old Bible thing about “shun evil companions?”) can be corrupting. The less trust people have of each others, the more likely for panic to set in. And the more likely, it seems, to demand more and more control of those they fear- which is just about everyone. So when things go wrong, the potential is high that they will go really wrong, with reaction, overreaction, and with the criminal class (both private and public) eager to seize the opportunity.
When that happens, chaos spreads to far more than just the quaint little Autonomous Zones OR the various “ethnic communities” (including so-called ghettos, whether black or Jewish), chinatowns and japantowns and little Italys, etc.), and the cry goes out even more loudly for a strong man, a savior on a white horse, to restore order and prosperity. One invariably rises, takes control, steals MORE liberty, steals MORE taxes, and finally there comes a point where it all just … crashes. Doom.
Now, eventually, something takes that city’s place, usually at least nearby if not on the actual location. Jerusalem, destroyed by the Babylonians, is reestablished by Ezra and Nehemiah under the Persians. Thebes is ultimately replaced by Cairo. Babylon itself by Baghdad. Rome is trashed and virtually wiped out (reduced to a pitiful town of priests) but makes a comeback. DItto for bombed-out and subdivided Berlin. Ciudad Mexico replaces the destroyed Tenochtitlan.
But some cities are never replaced. Carthage, Tyre, Ur, Nineveh come to mind. As do most of the Inca’s and Maya cities. And certainly nothing modern replaced ancient Cahokia: St. Louis is totally unlike the ancient Mississippian Culture metropolis, larger than London or Rome at its collapse and abandonment. Same for Cliff Palace and the rest of Mesa Verde – and for that matter all of that ancient urban area: Montezuma County and Cortez are not successors except in bare geography.
But with modern technology and liberty, there is no need for these megalopoli to create and sustain civilization. And that is a discussion for another time.