Saturday, January 10, 2009

A New New City Upon a Hill

London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Tokyo, Chicago, Rome. What do these locales have in common? Of course they are regarded as "great cities of the world," but how did they get that way? While separate books can and have been written detailing the diverse stories of each of these and other metropolitan areas, I'd say the common thread is that they developed moreso through a series of happy accidents than through any geopolitical inevitability. Certain conditions needed to be in place, of course, such as proximity to water and navigational accessibility . New York wouldn't be the cultural center it is today if it didn't border the Atlantic Ocean. Yet Dover, Delaware also borders the Atlantic. Is there a parallel universe in which Dover became a more important trading port for British merchants and consequently today is considered The Capital of the World?

If it were possible in bygone eras for a great city to simply be willed into existence, Jamestown, Virginia or St. Augustine, Florida today would be booming metropolitan areas. Historically, great cities have arisen more through messy evolution than through intelligent design. But is there any reason that this historical precedent need be adhered to anymore?

I got to thinking about this while reading about the increasing dollar amounts being bandied about in the discussions about the proposed federal economic stimulus package. There seems to be a strong sentiment for devoting much of the money for infrastructure. I proposed some time ago that since infrastructure is crumbling, it might be time to build new rather than rebuild old. And I wonder if it is a totally crazy idea to suggest that rather than invest completely in our existing metropolises, we could consider building new ones. In most areas of human endeavor, we invariably discard an old model as obsolete, taking what we have learned from it, and then building a 2.0 version. What if we could do this with something as fundamental as a city?

I realize that we can't invoke manifest destiny and annex untrodden land (as there isn't any left to the best of my knowledge) and I'm not talking about building space colonies. But I wonder if we can take cities like, well, Dover, and make them into New Yorks. Because we live in a fundamentally different world than the one that created the likes of New York, Paris, London, etc..., I see no reason why we can't now have a place like Valley City, North Dakota be transformed into the new City Upon a Hill. If we could get everyone to agree on the place (maybe a high stakes reality show competition?), I'm guessing that "if you build it, they will come."


Blogger Jed said...

Isn't this what is happening with Dubai? Here's a city that existed for thousands of years and then, through sheer force of will and billions of dollars, has now become the fastest-growing city in the world.

4:21 PM  

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