When we walk down the streets of a large city like New York City or Chicago, we feel the rush of traffic, hear the sounds of commerce, and see the bustling masses scurrying to their jobs. But how does this environment affect our mental state? How do city constructs affect the way we relate to others? How does it affect our capability to rationally deal with problems? In many ways, the city is constructed to be functional in an economic sense but neglects the psychological consequences upon its inhabitants. I believe wholeheartedly that cities can be both functional for the economy and a welcome home for those that live within them.
The modern city is a result of evolution, ever since the first signs of urbanization in Greece. The Greeks constructed town squares called a polis in order to facilitate the democratic movement of the people. These areas of open public space provided a means for the people to voice their opinion, a huge component of democracy. The rest of the city was a grid pattern, a manner of facilitating an open public square. This type of city development went by the wayside as population increased and, as a result, stratification became an issue. The rich were able to have a hand in government more readily than the poor, which led to a certain resentment by the lower classes. This led to the development of the Roman villa, a polis-like town square, that was used more for commerce than political issues. Trade was huge in the villa, as peddlers and traders dealt goods to the townspeople. This type of city still exists in some areas of Europe and Asia, despite the crumbling of the Roman Empire. The crumbling occurred due to trade disruptions caused by attacks from the Vandals and Visigoths, leading toward the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages saw a period of declining education, high disease rates and overall a sense of disunity among Western Europeans.
The European city of the 14th to 18th century was one of mercantilism, a shift by Western Europe away from the feudal land ownership to sea trade and diplomacy. The city was built around ports and harbors, which also were areas of local trade. The great explorations of the New World brought high amounts of wealth to the Old World, but also brought inflation, new disease, and an evolving imperial focus from its kingdoms. More revolt took place as the people of England and France, amongst other nations, saw the degradation of their respective governments. They saw bad changes coming for their cities and states, and wanted to create a better living for themselves. Changes also came in science and industry, leading to the Industrial Revolution, which changed the shape of cities to this day. Industry took hold of the city as factories were built to create more goods and cities continued to move outward into the countryside. Suburbanization followed and urban sprawl ensued.
The modern city is not a site to behold. The downtown in many cities has become a place of ill repute, very little commerce coming in as information has taken the place of industry. The suburb has taken over as the place of family and everyday living, while the city is slowly being drained of its life and losing its luster. Very few people from the suburbs want to come into the city because they see it as bad, dirty, and crime ridden. Because of this reputation, city developers and economic interests leave the city and move into suburban areas to grab a hold of their target market, the upper middle class and wealthy. I think that this suburban sprawl is the wrong way to construct living space. There are many ways to resolve living space issues as well as avoiding ecological damage, including smart growth initiatives in counties across the United States and decreasing property sizes. We must find a way to use space more efficiently so that we have a place to call home well into the 21st century.