A Tale of No Cities


(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. πŸ˜‰

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.



11 thoughts on “A Tale of No Cities

  1. I enjoyed this post. Was something I hadn’t particularly thought about before myself, but I can agree with a lot of what you said here. Two things I don’t agree with. I think that art by its very nature is so subjective that it’s impossible for there to be no good art, and no bad art, because what makes art good and bad are people’s impressions of it. I agree 100% that I’ve seen people fawn over things that I personally would call garbage (across all artistic mediums…painting, sculture, digital, books, movies, etc). But to start thinking that there is no good art any more seems like it would be unfairly limiting and biasing yourself before you even come across a piece to judge.

    The second point I disagree with is when you say that bandit attacks are at an all time low. Perhaps literal bandit attacks are, in the way that there’s fewer people waiting to rob weary travelers outside the city walls, but the bandits are still there, they’ve just changed shape. Identity theft, cyber crimes, crime in the cities themselves. As we adapt, so do the perils we face, and as we come up with new ways to live, they come up with new ways to harass and pillage. I’d argue that we’re even at more danger now from bandit attacks since they’re often much less obvious than they once were.

    All in all, great post. It definitely got me thinking. And I loved the pic

    • Thanks for your support and feedback, Anthony. Muchly appreciated. πŸ™‚

      In response to the points you’ve made – 1) I think we’re actually saying the same thing. When I said I didn’t believe there was such a this as ‘good’ art, I used the quotation marks in an attempt to infer that I believe what is ‘good’ is subjective. I understand if this wasn’t obvious, I can be a little dry and sarcastic sometimes, which doesn’t always translate well to the written medium, ha. πŸ™‚

      And 2) you make a fair point, crime is still a problem, though as you say it has evolved beyond simple banditry. In the case of mentioning bandit attacks, I was being quite literal. I wanted to illustrate that traditional reasons for city-dwelling had become outdated, and as you say, the modern equivalencies have adapted to suit our ever-shifting society.

      Again, appreciate the feedback. It’s nice to see my random thoughts sparking intelligent discourse. πŸ™‚

  2. Cities, to me, equate simply to collections of great amounts of people. Cities formed out of a need to be near a transportation route, usually a large expanse of water. So when you check out where all the biggest cities are, they are close to a major river or ocean. With overpopulation the way it is, people cannot help but be pushed upon one another. Thus, the proliferation of condos and the idea of growing up, instead of out. The places that lack people are due to extreme reasons (e.g., living in the cold of Antarctica or the dangers of the thickest parts of the rainforest). So, to sum up my first point, people are squished into what we now know as cities.

    • Some fair and interesting points, Randy. However, I would suggest that cities forming on transport routes close to large expanses of water are geographical conveniences, much in the same way that large population centres are conveniences unlike divided dwellings. The point I was trying to make is that we are no longer dictated to by convenience in same way we once were, not even by these geographical limitations. Water desalinisation makes inhabiting water restrictive regions more viable, and transportation routes, though more economically sound to live on, are only transportation routes due to the existence of the cities themselves. Their existence is self-fullfilling. The overpopulation issue is a very real one in some regions, and one that I honestly hadn’t thought much about. I live in Australia, which has lots of broad open space and intermittently dense population centres. Admittedly, much of inland Australia is arid desert and uninhabitable, but far from all of it is this way. From what I understand, Asia is one of the regions that suffers the most through overpopulation, and more problematically, much of it is islands with no rural areas, meaning there is nowhere to live but cities. Personally, I feel like decentralisation and moving away from cities where able is a legitimate solution to overpopulation when viable, as people tend to procreate more in dense population centres. I admit, much of what I have to say is generalisation, conjecture and subjective heresay… but what’s the point in having an opinion if you can’t throw around an excessive hypothesis now and then? πŸ™‚

      Good points, Randy. πŸ™‚

  3. I’ve lived in a city among millions of people for twenty-five years and it’s draining to have so many people in one area. There’s so much time spent waiting…in traffic, in lines, etc. There are few parks and it’s mainly a maze of concrete and blacktop. We are moving to a smaller town soon and am looking forward to seeing stars at night – and no brown haze hanging over the skyline during the day.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Janna. I spent a lot of time in Sydney, and it wasn’t until I moved away until I realised how overwhelming the city-hive could be. Nonetheless, some people seem to thrive on it, and that’s cool. Cheers for sharing your thoughts and feelings. πŸ™‚

  4. I have never lived in a city, thank goodness. I have visited a great deal and those were good experiences. However, the ability to escape the congestion of people, buildings and noise is a huge bonus. I have found a natural quiet to be all healing – it can be a solitary walk or sitting outside for a while with nature around me. This basic connection to the earth is what is missing for people living in cities. They may not realize how damaged their inner being is but it surely is. A glimpse is afforded them on vacations when they ‘feel’ so much better. They may attribute it to time off work but really it is this basic need to connect with natural surroundings.
    Great post BTW.

    • Thanks for your response, Mandy! I think you’re right, health conditions arising from surrounding ourselves in artificial environments are becoming more and more obvious in the modern era. I think people forget how far we’ve advanced, culturally and technologically, in such a short amount of time. We still don’t efficiently know or understand the long term health effects of living in the cities of the 20th and 21st century, because nothing like them have ever existed prior to the last 100 to 200 years.

      Good points, thanks again for the feedback. πŸ™‚

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