Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rise of the City-State

In the year 1800 CE, 3% of earth’s population lived in cities. In the year 1900 CE, the ratio of urban to rural dwellers rose to 14% urban. In the year 2007 CE, the percentage of earth’s population that lives in a city rose to 50%. This momentous year tipped the scale whereby more earthling humans live in a city that live in the country. To paraphrase Stewart Brand, we are now inhabitants of a city planet.

At our current rate of migration from rural living to city dwelling, 80% of earth’s human population will be urban by the year 2050 CE. Humanity’s flight to the cities of the world is a prime indicator of the increasing importance of city government and infrastructure in the years to come. The ability of any given city to provide essential necessities such as safety, shelter and sustenance to its citizenry will be the measure of said city’s effectiveness as a governmental overlay. The ability to provide essential utilities such as clean water, consistent electricity and effective transportation will be the measure of a municipality’s infrastructural integrity. A city’s ability to provide both of these essential elements will be the measure of its success and its greatness.

It is pertinent here to point out that the words: city, citizen and civilization all derive from the same Latin root word. It can be argued that in ancient times, the rise of cities triggered the rise of agriculture, and not the other way around, as is commonly postulated. Concentrations of people, protected behind city walls, facilitated innovative agricultural practices to feed the populace. Cities are by far the most enduring form of governmental structure on earth. Damascus, capitol of Syria, has been continuously occupied since 6300 BCE.

With the apparent destabilization and diminished effectiveness of federal governments throughout the world, brought about by the current global economic collapse, cities are emerging as the most dynamic governmental structure on the planet. As federal services are cut, community based relief organizations fill the void by providing relief services directly to the local population, thereby eliminating federal and state layers of government (read: bureaucracy). This trend will only strengthen the power of the City-State.

Of course, people have always identified with their city over their national and to a lesser degree their state identity. In responding to the question “where are you from?” the reply “I’m from New York City” or “I’m from Seattle” or some such variation is the typical answer given… with more bravado and pride… than “I’m a United States citizen”. This type of affiliation also is indicative of tribal identity.

Given the above premises, it is reasonable to forecast the rise of the City-State as the emerging governmental power of the twenty-first century. Global civilization will gravitate around the city structure. Our identity and our allegiance will more align with our city over any other governmental entity as services and utilities are increasingly provided on a local level. The strongest competition for allegiance may well come from neo-tribal identity, as tribal organization also supplies security to its members. Tribal identity will also strengthen the City-State, as these two forms of governance are the most compatible and synergistic. That is, they each have the most to gain through mutual cooperation.

Time will tell if these predictions come to pass. In some ways, they have already begun. In other ways, the power of the City-State has always been. Ever since the rise of the first great City-States of antiquity, municipal organization has been the most pervasive form civic cooperation. In the end, allegiance will be given to the entity which supplies the most effective and beneficial service to its citizenry.