Beautiful Cities Around the World

A city is a large and per­ma­nent human set­tle­ment. Although there is no agree­ment on how a city is dis­tin­guished from a town in gen­er­al Eng­lish lan­guage mean­ings, many cities have a par­tic­u­lar admin­is­tra­tive, legal, or his­tor­i­cal sta­tus based on local law.

Cities gen­er­al­ly have com­plex sys­tems for san­i­ta­tion, util­i­ties, land usage, hous­ing, and trans­porta­tion. The con­cen­tra­tion of devel­op­ment great­ly facil­i­tates inter­ac­tion between peo­ple and busi­ness­es, some­times ben­e­fit­ing both par­ties in the process, but it also presents chal­lenges to man­ag­ing urban growth.

A big city or metrop­o­lis usu­al­ly has asso­ci­at­ed sub­urbs and exurbs. Such cities are usu­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with met­ro­pol­i­tan areas and urban areas, cre­at­ing numer­ous busi­ness com­muters trav­el­ing to urban cen­ters for employ­ment. Once a city expands far enough to reach anoth­er city, this region can be deemed a conur­ba­tion or mega­lopo­lis. Dam­as­cus is arguably the old­est city in the world. In terms of pop­u­la­tion, the largest city prop­er is Shang­hai, while the fastest-grow­ing is Dubai.


The con­ven­tion­al view holds that cities first formed after the Neolith­ic rev­o­lu­tion. The Neolith­ic rev­o­lu­tion brought agri­cul­ture, which made denser human pop­u­la­tions pos­si­ble, there­by sup­port­ing city devel­op­ment. The advent of farm­ing encour­aged hunter-gath­er­ers to aban­don nomadic lifestyles and to set­tle near oth­ers who lived by agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion. The increased pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty encour­aged by farm­ing and the increased out­put of food per unit of land cre­at­ed con­di­tions that seem more suit­able for city-like activ­i­ties. In his book, Cities and Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment, Paul Bairoch takes up this posi­tion in his argu­ment that agri­cul­tur­al activ­i­ty appears nec­es­sary before true cities can form.

What strange phe­nom­e­na we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with inno­cent mon­sters.”
― Charles Baude­laire

Accord­ing to Vere Gor­don Childe, for a set­tle­ment to qual­i­fy as a city, it must have enough sur­plus of raw mate­ri­als to sup­port trade and a rel­a­tive­ly large pop­u­la­tion. Bairoch points out that, due to sparse pop­u­la­tion den­si­ties that would have per­sist­ed in pre-Neolith­ic, hunter-gath­er­er soci­eties, the amount of land that would be required to pro­duce enough food for sub­sis­tence and trade for a large pop­u­la­tion would make it impos­si­ble to con­trol the flow of trade. To illus­trate this point, Bairoch offers an exam­ple: felix_nadar_1820-1910_portraits_charles_baudelaire_2

West­ern Europe dur­ing the pre-Neolith­ic, the den­si­ty must have been less than 0.1 per­son per square kilo­me­tre”. Using this pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty as a base for cal­cu­la­tion, and allot­ting 10% of food towards sur­plus for trade and assum­ing that city dwellers do no farm­ing, he cal­cu­lates that “…to main­tain a city with a pop­u­la­tion of 1,000, and with­out tak­ing the cost of trans­port into account, an area of 100,000 square kilo­me­tres would have been required. When the cost of trans­port is tak­en into account, the fig­ure ris­es to 200,000 square kilo­me­tres …”. Bairoch not­ed that this is rough­ly the size of Great Britain. The urban the­o­rist Jane Jacobs sug­gests that city for­ma­tion pre­ced­ed the birth of agri­cul­ture, but this view is not wide­ly accept­ed.

In his book City Eco­nom­ics, Bren­dan O’Flaherty asserts “Cities could persist—as they have for thou­sands of years—only if their advan­tages off­set the dis­ad­van­tages. O’Flaherty illus­trates two sim­i­lar attract­ing advan­tages known as increas­ing returns to scale and economies of scale, which are con­cepts usu­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with busi­ness­es. Their appli­ca­tions are seen in more basic eco­nom­ic sys­tems as well. Increas­ing returns to scale occurs when “dou­bling all inputs more than dou­bles the out­put an activ­i­ty has economies of scale if dou­bling out­put less than dou­bles cost”. To offer an exam­ple of these con­cepts, O’Flaherty makes use of “one of the old­est rea­sons why cities were built: mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion” .

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