The Purpose of a City: economic development or something more?

Why do we choose to live cities?  What are they for?

Well, for many of us they are ‘Where the jobs are’.  We don’t choose to live in or near them.  We do so because that is how our economy is configured.  We are drawn into they city and ‘enslaved’ by it and the economy is exists to serve.  But many of us are, on the whole, happy slaves as the city fathers and their investor friends ensure we are regularly supplied with both  ‘bread and circuses’, superficial means of appeasement, from which they too can often make a handsome profit.

And, on one level, this is a purpose of the city.

To organise a modern population effectively and efficiently for the benefit of employers and those who bankroll and tax them.  They are above all else economic entities, where ‘culture’ and ‘community’ play secondary roles as part of the mechanisms for appeasement while the primary narrative is about the economy, productivity, profitability and gross domestic product.

As Margaret Thatcher put it “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”

But, we can look at a city differently.

We could choose to believe that “Head, heart and soul are the method; the object is to change the economy”

We can choose to see the city as a collection of people who have converged on a specific location because it offers them opportunities to do the things that they want to do, to be the person that they want to be and fulfil their potential.  In such a city the primary relationship would not be one of ‘enslavement’ to an economy but as a collaboration of powerful citizens in a participative democracy.  A city where citizens primary responsibility is to each other and to the future.  Where an economy is produced that serves people, both now and into the future.

Such a city would almost certainly not depend primarily on the development of its physical infrastructure, (Supercasino anyone? Or perhaps a high-speed train or station entrance to inspire the business folk?) but on psychological infrastructure.  A network of relationships, support and encouragement that valued people, regardless of wealth or education, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or age.  A psychological infrastructure in which help could be asked for and offered. A city in which collaboration, association and innovation in the pursuit of progress was everyone’s business.

Now THAT would be a city I would want to live in.

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