We all got to eat.
In the beginning of time, in the beginning of our time, we were collectors and nomads. Having few built structures for home. We had to rely 100% on nature to feed us so when the seasons changed we moved.
We learned to use fire and to tame animals.
Then we learned to farm and everything changed. We became resident. Since we were staying on one place, farming the same piece of land, year after year, the power of land occurred. To own land. Because the power of land suddenly mattered, conflict and war occurred and so did trade.
Farming was a productive success. All didn’t even have to participate in the work of producing food to eat and instead they could be craftsmen, priests, teachers, soldiers, kings etc. This period is the cradle of cities and urbanity.
Cities appeared as the centers of the group of people that did not produce their own food but traded it with crafts och other goods or services, and or for those who got hold of power trough taxes.
The rural areas was supported by the urban areas with military protection and the opportunity to trade, and in return they supported the cities with food so the citizens could be citizens, not farmers. Urban space was space for trade, education, handicrafts, military and not for farming. The cities had the power but were at the same time completely dependent on the rural areas to survive.
The cities grew. Still dependent on the surroundings, but the life of the city became more and more distant of from the life of the farmers, sometimes with a city wall separating the two different realities. As the techniques of farming developed, more and more people could move to the cities to be fed by someone else.
This is a simplified history of the early urbanity. I found it very important because the base for the relationship between cities and rural areas is the same today as it was right in the beginning. Everybody got to eat food. Food is produced by people, but not all people produce food. This is a very simple equation and the result is urbanity in all its complexity.
Today the rural area does no longer surround the city that it supports, as it did in the beginning of urbanity but they are still connected by trade and military. For the cities to be able to grow they need to found more land to explore.
This is not something new, if we go back to ancient Rome, one of the biggest of the ancient cities, considered by the western society as the cradle to democracy and philosophy. Rome had about 1 million citizens which could not be fed by only the local farmers so the Romans began conquer farming land all over the mediterranean and the result of this was the Roman Empire. So building the empire was not only a search for greatness and power, nor an action to spread ’the light of Rome’, but mainly a search for new rural areas and slaves to farm them.
When the Roman Empire came to an end the dark ages began in Europe, during which the European cities again had the ‘traditional’ role in the local society as protector and center of knowledge and trade. The farmers supporting the city the city supporting the farmers. But for a city, and say a society, a culture, to blossom you’ll need colonial territory and slaves. The dark ages of Europe where not so dark for the arabs, they colonised all of north africa and south of spain and a good part of middle east and so their cities blossomed with beauty, knowledge, philosophy and luxury.
Then the European Renaissance during the 14th–17th centuries, the spanish conquered Andalusia and the Europeans were the conquerors again and so the cities of Europe started to bloom. Then came industrialization and the discovery of fossil fuels which led to a huge military advantage for the leading states at the time compared to the rest of the world.
The colonisation by the strongest actors in Europe (which were Great Britain, Frances, Spain and Portugal), were enormous. They were conquering more or less all of the world. North and South America, Africa, India, Australia etc, creating a great system of supporting colonies.
I don’t have to tell you exactly how powerful all these conquests made Europe, how rich they made Europe, even though the greatest profits occurred first during the 20th century when they really learned how to conquer.
Most colonies are independent countries today, at least in theory. In practice Europe and also some of the former colonies of Great Britain with a lot of immigrants from Great Brittain and north Europe (such as North America and Australia) are still the ’cities’ of the world supported by the colonies. The colonialism of today is not as obvious as before, hidden in trade and war for spreading democracy. Today it is not the states but rather the big businesses doing the dirty work behind our wealthy societies and blooming cities. Doreen B. Massey describes this in her book ’For Space’ (London: SAGE. pp 4-5) talking about space and our view of space.
”The current governments in the UK and US (and plenty of other current governments besides) tells us the story of the inevitability of globalization. Or rather, although they do not of course make this distinction, they tell us a story of the inevitability of that particular form of neoliberal capitalism which we are experiencing at the moment – that duplicitous combination of the (unequally) free movement of capital on the one hand with the firm control of labour on the other. Anyhow, they tell us it’s inevitable. And if you point to differences around the globe, to Mocambique or Mali or Nicaragua, they will tell you such countries are just ’behind’; that eventually they will follow the path along which the capitalist West has led.”
The cities of for example Europe are no longer different units but they work together as a single economic union, somehow it is as we have unions of states taking the traditional role of the city (to trade and rule, to give ’military protection’, and create new knowledge) and on the other hand countries of production of food, supporting the life in the city states. To really distinguish us from them we create strict boarders which you will need a good reason and a lot of money to cross not very different from the city walls surrounding the medieval cities.
If you come here you should bring something to trade.
There are cities in the production countries as well, but they work as big economic embassies of ’West’ and are inhabited mainly by poor people drown away from the countryside to make more space for the huge farms required to feed ’West’. There is farming land in Europe and some of it is really productive, but truthfully a European country have more success in engaging in the typical city role such as military actions, technical development and trade rather then that of food production. Take Portugal, Spain and Greece for exemple, producing a lot of high quality food, but what do they gain from that?
How did it come to be like this? We, citizens and consumers of ’west’ are definitely a important part of this system, even though not aware of it. The key to this is modern technics of transport and the cheap fuels supporting it and the multinational businesses gaining from it. Carolyn Steel, a british architect that spent a good part of her career searching for ways to describe cities through food, explains how
”Food is not something you would naturally choose to transport very far: it is soft and squishy and has a tendency to go off. That makes the transport of it almost as hard as growing it in the first place. In the pre-industrial world, managing the food supply was the biggest headache cities faced, and it effectively limited where they could be built and how large they could grow. /…/
After industrialisation, everything changed. With the arrival of the railways, along with inventions such as canning and freezing, it became possible for the first time to build cities more or less anywhere and any size. One important consequence of this was that urban authorities began to loosen their grip on the food supply, relying more and more on commercial companies to feed the urban population.
That might have seemed a good idea at the time, but the result today is that we are totally reliant on trans-national corporations to feed us, who have no civic responsibility and no interests at heart other than making money. That puts them in an extremely powerful position – especially when you consider how difficult it is to feed cities as large as those we now live in. Because it happens invisibly, we tend to assume that feeding cities these days is easy. It isn’t. It’s a highly sophisticated process that relies on phenomenal levels of skill, coordination and energy – and ‘just in time’ deliveries that keep stocks of food to an absolute minimum. Food security is an increasingly urgent global concern, and not just for developing nations, but for every one of us.”
We do not see this, we are wealthy and happy, the only thing disturbing us is the immigration from the regions of the world impoverished by the production of our food.
Realising the very reality of the colonialism of today, I ask myself if there is a way back? Or forward? And then to what? We love our cities, our culture, our freedom. But on what cost?