Cities have been with us since the start of history. And as a city boy, I have always had an interest in checking them out, seeing what they could provide; studying their personalities, and comparing the different cities I have known. I’ve also been very interested in the changes in city life because of technology. And the attitudes of people to cities. It was fascinating for me to read of the so called ‘best’ cities of the world, especially since my own city wasn’t even on the list, and most of the best were cities that I’d never gotten to know. Though I did spend some time in Zurich, which was rated no. 2. London, by the way was in 53rd place. I think that what made them ‘best’ was that they were the most comfortable to live in.
It’s obvious to me, that subjective opinions aren’t worth much, so I won’t bother comparing my beloved home town to other cities. But I will say that while traveling around the world a bit, I did encounter some cities I especially liked, and two that made a very strong impression on me, and neither of those cities were mentioned in the top ten either. But then, looking into the matter I found one list of the most ‘liveable cities’ and another of the cities with the highest ‘quality of living’. So that was a reminder that different people look for different things. Not to speak of the difference between list makers. And if what you like most is listening to open air jazz concerts… or smoking in a bar… your choice of the most liveable city might be different from what is on the Mercer list.
Often, I fantasize about what my perfect city would be like. And my fantasies were given a push this week, when I heard that according to a recent census, for the first time in the history of the world, there are more people living in cities than in the country. Well, I have a lot of affection and love for the country too… but that is another story. I thought it wouldn’t take long now, till the majority of mankind was living in cities. We keep multiplying, and city living is more efficient than other methods of providing dwelling places for large numbers of people. On the other hand, there’s not much of the feeling of community when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway.
So what are we looking for in a city? Let’s try to be rational and objective. There are cities that make it next to impossible for the poor to live there, because they think the poor are an eyesore. And there are cities that are so concerned about the energy crisis, that they force people to cut down tall and beautiful trees because those trees cast shadows on solar panels which convert sunlight to electricity. Actually I get a kick out of hearing such stories, so if my readers know more, I would love to hear them. But aside from the humor, it seems about time that we put a lot of thinking and energy into planning cities that are truly integral with human needs. Many years ago, my son in law was studying architecture. And during his interview, before being accepted, a professor at the school told him, You know, if a doctor makes a mistake, and the patient dies… everyone is sorry. But they put the poor patient in the ground, and go on with living life. But if an architect designs a building with some serious mistakes, people might suffer for a hundred or more years; both those living in the building, and those who see it every day.
One of the many subjects we encounter, when thinking about what a city should be like, is that of graffiti. There are many cities that see it as a nuisance, and either forbid it, or try to confine it. I can understand why some people dislike it. Unlike the museums, a budding young artist doesn’t have to be approved by a committee before he can show his work. And some louts enjoy painting vulgarities on the sides of buildings… and sometimes even on the works of others. But I enjoy it. I find the pictures and the words more stimulating and thought provoking than the aesthetic regularity of continuous walls. And I think there is a sense of community in seeing what everyone (who cares) wishes to put on the city street. Sometimes it’s an adornment, and sometimes it’s a challenge. But I, for one, will vote for free graffiti.