A diptych that is a celebration of the multifaceted achievement that is the 21st century urban environment and the hope for our sustainable future that cities represent.
Etemenanki was first ‘high rise’: a 91m high ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk in the ancient city of Babylon located in modern day Iraq. Scholars consider that Babylon was the largest city in the world c. 1770 – c. 1670 BC, and again c. 612 – c. 320 BC. The Mesopotamian civilisation was a vital cultural melting pot and its capital Babylon perhaps the first city to reach a population of above 200,000.
The 21st century city is a vast ‘meta-machine’ comprised of a myriad of interoperating systems that provide not only life support; delivering essential ‘consumables’ for millions of people (water, food and shelter) but also facilitating a breadth of personal and social opportunities unparalleled in the history of humanity. Consider the myriad of different pursuits that a person can engage in within a city – both from a recreational as well as a work perspective –compared to that of an individual living in a rural environment (this is an even more significant contrast when considering opportunities for women).
Furthermore, looking to the future: cities may be the key to sustainability in that they enable more efficient consumption than low density rural living. As urban living is typically characterised by a mass transportation rather than a car-dependent lifestyle, with smaller more heat-efficient homes where civic services and infrastructure can be accessed more efficiently. The high population density city represents the opportunity to permanently reduce energy use, water consumption, carbon output and many other environmental ills.
The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reported in 2014 that for the first time in human history more than half of the world lives in cities. And indeed the phenomenon of urbanisation has even led to reforestation in Asia and Latin America with secondary forest growing as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of a better life.