New City

They had come a long way since the original jungle. In four hours of drawing together, Bobby and his niece Naomi had created a well established village with roads, railways, power lines, factories, local media, and telecoms. They could remain outside the drawing, designing it like architects, or go within it to finish it as fine artists. Large scale changes were made quickly from the outside, but they also needed to pop in for experiential quality control.

They had four more hours till Bobby’s sister came to collect Naomi. After a short break, listening to ambient tunes on Naomi’s iPod, she said, “Let’s draw a city!” Then she became pensive. “Is it just like a big village really?”

Bobby smiled. So she didn’t know everything. Two hours ago she had lectured him on hard and soft infrastructure, and now she was asking him this basic question. It was nice to know that adults were still required in this youthful world where industries and jobs, and even countries, could transform overnight.

He said, “It’s a large permanent settlement and has complex systems.” She looked at him wide-eyed. “Things like industry, housing, transportation, and utilities, and sanitation.”

“But how many people live there?” she said. “More than a million?”

He said that there was no fixed number, but a million sounded about right. Why did she choose a million?

“Because that’s the biggest proper number that I can think of,” she said. “After that you just start counting again – one million, two million, three million, four million, five million…” She stopped at ten million and said, “Why did people start living in cities? Why didn’t they just stay in villages? Aren’t they nicer? There’s no millions, just people.”

Bobby took his role as Uncle seriously. Despite his niece sometimes knowing more than him, he did his best to educate her. She knew more about games, apps, and social media – O.K., technology in general, the area increasingly required for you to function in this world, and without whose competence you were handicapped.

He told her what he recalled from school. The Neolithic revolution was when hunter-gatherers began to grow crops in an organized manner, and created permanent settlements. Agriculture proved to be an efficient method of food production; instead of say eight hours, each person could produce the food needed in four hours, and spend the time saved pursuing crafts, or producing twice as much food, and trading it for other goods they desired. Such an economy would draw other people into it, and as it grew, the settlement grew, usually on grid plans or as radial structures with central temples.

“But you’ve only told me how the cities grew. Not why people live in them. Why did you live in the city? I mean before you…” Her sentence trailed off, as she knew that this was a sensitive topic. The first part of the question was O.K. though.

Bobby said, “It’s mainly because of concentrated facilities. Everything is close by, so people can share knowledge and develop new ideas. The best thing about cities is that you can get many things done there. They are places of creation.”

Naomi looked perplexed and said, “But don’t you have all those things in a village too? In Lucerne we have people close by, we have knowledge of things like farming, construction, and mining, and people have lots of ideas and time to develop them.”

Maybe she was right, thought Bobby. Was it only a matter of scale? You could do all of those things in a small place too, on a smaller scale. Wasn’t quality better than quantity? Cities had higher population density and labour differentiation, higher taxes paid to The Authority, monumental buildings, welfare systems, information recording systems, writing systems, symbolic art, extensive trade, huge consumer choice, and specialist craftsmen. Lucerne village had low population density and every person bore a range of skills; there was an informal economy, modest buildings, and families relying on each other rather than the state; knowledge was transmitted orally, and there was appreciation of natural beauty rather than conceptual art; there was more gifting than trade, and people were generalists holding a wider world view. Lucerne was geared towards independence rather than the city’s dependence.

Bobby had failed in the city. He’d aimed too high, got too greedy, and spun out of control. He’d lost his job and money, and fallen into depression. And now he was here where everything was possible again. He could stand on his own two feet in the village. It was human scale.

He said, “Naomi, do you mind if we don’t draw a city?”

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