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Humanity Might Have Been Born To Live In Cities

From Machu Picchu to the Mediterranean, humans have invented and reinvented cities, over and over again. Courtesy of Poswiecie/Pixabay.

Paleo-Style Sensibilities Aside, Earth’s Future Hinges on the Success of Our Urban Spaces

By Greg Woolf is director of the Institute of Classical Studies in London and the author, most recently, of The Life and Death of Ancient Cities. Starting in July 2021, he will be Ronald J. Mellor Professor of Ancient History at UCLA.
April 26, 2021


One reason not to consign cities to the trash can of some of our species’ worst ideas is that we have turned out to be very well adapted to live in them. Human beings move easily in cities’ complex three-dimensional topography. We are adept at building social groups with strangers as well as kith and kin, we are tolerant of the new (and often nutritionally impoverished) diets that cities impose on their inhabitants, and we combine a sense of local territory (our homes, our neighborhoods) with a capacity for exploring and mapping new spaces that is far superior to that of our nearest animal relatives. We might have been born to live in cities.

We were not, of course, designed for city life. Evolution is the opposite of movement by design—it’s a lurching blindly into the future, through one happy accident after another (or at least, by following paths that are less disastrous than the alternatives). Our species has been around for some 300 million years, and we owe most of our city-friendly features to evolutionary processes that go back even further. For instance, our sociality, linked to the development of our frontal cortex, is pure primate. Our dietary flexibility probably developed in environments where it was never certain exactly which foods would be available. All this added up to an awesome potential for living in cities. We are not the only species with this potential. Mice, rats, bats, and house sparrows also do pretty well in concrete jungles. The difference is, we build cities. They have colonized them.

Read the complete article here.


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