(Image by Magic-Fox)
I was discussing the existence of cities with a friend of mine the other day.
I just don’t get ’em.
I love the idea of cities. Heck, I worked at an office in Sydney for 2 years. I understand the convenience of having so many options in such a small space. So much food, and entertainment, and social rigueur. Cities truly are the cultural buffet of existence… but like an actual buffet, I can’t help but question the quality of the free salad bar.
“But Ryan,” I hear you plead through your thin-lipped frowns, “Where else would you find so much excitement? So much culture?”
And I respond with a question of my own, my beady-eyed friends – what is the purpose of a city?
Cities were originally formed for a variety of reasons, the first and foremost being the aforementioned convenience. Before we had FedEx, goods and services were moved by horse and cart. Having a large population centre in close proximity made commerce an easier task for all concerned, especially when overland journeys meant risking both your life and your merchandise, due to banditry and orc attacks.
In bygone eras, cities filled the ‘safety in numbers’ quotient that has helped mankind’s progress so much. We are social creatures, and when you put lots of us in one place we stockpile, and we build, and we procreate.
What a life.
Now, whenever a surplus of goods has been stockpiled by our species in the course of history, we have seen cultural renaissances occur. Once our minds stop thinking about where our next meal or lay is going to come from, we start thinking about existentialism – who are we, where are we, and where did we come from? Science and philosophy thrive in these times of surplus, and, as a result, so too does art and culture. This is why cities are historically deemed to be centres of cultural refinement.
So… where are we now?
Thanks to the wonders of globalisation and the internet, you can access nearly any piece of information, at any time, from anywhere in the world. I can look at an art piece that is currently hanging in the Louvre from the safety of my own home and appreciate its conceptual majesty. I know what your thinking. “It’s not the same as experiencing it”, or “Art is defined by its form and context.” And you’d be right on both accounts. But for me personally, I’m not sure I believe in ‘good’ art anymore. I have seen too many people fawn over garbage to believe that art is made better through public conjecture.
These are interesting times, in juxtaposition to the proverb. Bandit attacks are at an all time low. Social media and online marketing have made diversification of commerce seem an all-too accessible reality. Do we really need cities anymore?
For every tall building, my town has a tree. For every warehouse party, there is a bush doof. Perhaps, just perhaps, we don’t need to huddle together in the shadow of rusting metal and the calcifying concrete any longer.
Still, each to their own. 😉
In addition to this rant, here’s a rant of mine that Warhol’s Children just published about the etiquette of ‘liking’ on Facebook – Company Likes Misery.