Mike Vickers' Blog

April 19, 2010

Social Media & The Future of the City

Filed under: ecademy, In Our Time — derryvickers @ 9:44 pm

I start this blog by unreservedly commending, as I do so often, the Radio 4 Programme ‘In Our Time’ hosted by Melvyn Bragg.  The programme goes out live every Thursday morning at just after 9 am.  Melvyn introduces a topic which three academics discuss for ¾ hour.  Last week it was the Zulu Wars, the previous week it was the essayist William Hazlitt but the programme I want to discuss here is the one covered on the previous two weeks before Hazlitt.  The Discussion was on The City from the earliest times to the present day.  The population of Ur in 2000 BC was sixty thousand, China too had large cities at this time, then came Athens which was in comparison relatively small, Rome was around 1 million and Bagdad was in its hey day around 2 million.  Of course much of the two programmes concentrated on European cities.  London featured large, and as a largely trading city with its narrow streets was contrasted with Paris and its wide boulevards which was built to celebrate the unity of France and magnificence of its kings. Few people actually live now in London and the better off commute into Marylebone whilst they in Paris stay in the centre and walk to work – what a nice idea!

Many interesting facts emerged: cities have always been disease ridden and their population’s death rates have been higher than their birth rates, hence they have relied heavily on immigration form the surrounding countryside.  The US being individualist favours the car as a means of transport in the city whilst Europe being collectivist increasingly favours public transport.  Cities have never lasted indefinitely; Ur, Athens and Rome all passed into antiquity.  Currently industrial cities such as Detroit and Liverpool are dying and careful thought needs to go into what to do with such cities.

One point brought up was to why cities have come into existence and have grown over time and are still appearing in South America for example. Trading was the prime reason, initially in agricultural produce, but then government needed to be centralised, and the point was made that people like to meet face to face whether for business or just socially – in clubs and coffee houses and in meeting rooms etc.   They also like to visit the big shops.

In a previous blog, Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me, I refer to Penny Power who makes the point that a major change is taking place in the twenty first century and business will cease to be conducted in closed boxes and will increasingly be open and random.  I argued that large organisations will still be needed, eg insurance and finance companies, but surely most office workers can now do their work from the comfort of their homes rather than to travel long distances to city offices.  If this becomes accepted, and most catalogue sales persons already do so, the size of our present cities could drop dramatically.  They would then be small compact units providing meetings for business and leisure, music and theatre, and for window gazing. Citizens would come to meet, and socialise, and underpin the relationships they had made through social media.

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