What is the ideal relationship between cities and their hinterlands? Frequently, cities have often wished to dominate the spaces around them, given their higher population densities and the fact that not only people but also political and economic and cultural power is often concentrated in such cities. Yet at the same time this extreme power difference can alienate the people of the countryside from the elites who dwell in and near cities, thus creating a serious degree of hostility between those who consider themselves as having a natural power to dominate others and those who resent such domination and feel the cities near them to be a source of decadence and corruption that are fit mainly for destruction, and yet which are often dependent on the surrounding countryside for their food and water supplies. The relationship between town and country has often been a contentious one that has created great difficulties for dwellers of both areas.
Throughout the course of my life, I have lived in the country, in the cities, and in those liminal suburban spaces in between. Wherever I have lived, my fundamental approach to life has remained in the same, in that I have sought to have my own private space for reading, writing, and working where I spend most of my time, friendly public spaces where I have sought to interact with others at particular times of my own choosing, and occasional trips to places that have particular cultural interest to me or which are necessary for obtaining food and books. Speaking personally, at least, I do not consider myself as having the sort of sociability that makes for enjoying the urban lifestyle, and it is only advanced logistics and communication networks that has made it possible for me to work and enjoy life in the countryside. Nor is it immediately obvious to me which people like which spaces the best and why, and whether or not development can be properly tailored to the spaces that are best suited for those who inhabit this earth.
There are a great many places where one or a few massive cities and their metropolitan areas dominate whole nations. In a great many countries, and one does not need to look far to find them, the largest few cities of nations have massive proportions of the populations of those countries. I view this situation with considerable concern. Where there is a massive amount of space that is sparsely populated and only very small places where the vast majority of a population lives, something is deeply wrong. In such situations the lure of power or economic opportunity is focused too narrowly on areas where the elites may be found, and the right of people to have a peaceful and productive life on outlying lands is clearly being limited by some factor that prevents widespread well-being in a nation. If people need to move to the city in order to find freedom and opportunity, their societies are failing them, because one should be able to have a few acres to oneself and be able to do all that is necessary for life and happiness. If one needs to have access to and the patronage of elites to receive that which is necessary for life, that is not a place that I will find to be very welcoming or enjoyable, and yet such places are common in the earth as it now is.
I do not say this as someone who is intrinsically hostile to urban life. There is a great deal of worth that cities, in their proper proportion, can offer. The concentration of people makes it easier to conduct business, and offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy athletics, museums, libraries, transportation networks, historical sites, concert venues, and many other places that are enjoyable to visit and pass the time. Such things are more difficult to find in rural areas, although at least some of these can be found in even small towns that are functioning well. Indeed, if I find many cities to be overcrowded, towns in a well-ordered society offer many of the benefits of cities without the mass population that can be unpleasant to be around, though all too often towns suffer because of the lack of internal development within countries, which want to focus on their biggest cities, which leads people to leave smaller towns and rural areas to dwell in poverty and overcrowding and misery in those places where hope and opportunity are supposed to dwell. It is not the existence of cities and towns, but rather the imbalance that exists between town and country, that troubles me so.
People in cities are inclined to believe that their domination over surrounding areas is both natural and inevitable, yet this is not so. The Greeks and Romans built an urban culture that extended over parts of several continents, and yet when their political power waned, many of those cities became melancholy ruins whose inhabitants died off or melted into the countryside, which became dominated by a few elites in manor houses and castles with the vast majority of the population being composed of mostly unfree peasants engaged in subsistence agriculture to support what few towns and cities survived. The cities of Russia, Central Asia, Iran, India, and China have been repeatedly destroyed by ferocious rural peoples who have taken advantage of the weakness and decadence of rulers and ruled alike, sacking cities in spectacular brutality or starving them out through sieges that have left hundreds of thousands or even millions of people dead at a time. That is not even to mention the cities of North, Central, and South America that were built and inhabited by native civilizations and then abandoned for reasons not entirely understood. The power or even the survival of cities is by no means assured.
One might think that the survival of cities and the preservation of the influence of cities and city-dwellers would best be maintained by an attitude of humility and modesty and restraint. Engaging in behaviors that recognized the needs and interests of those of the rural hinterlands and sought to avoid monopolizing power and development in the urban core would go a long way in making cities and city people less offensive to those around them. Showing an appreciation of and a recognition of the issues that make it difficult to persist in living in small towns and the countryside on the part of cities and the societal elites that live in and near them would provide the countryside and small towns as an effective counterweight to the masses of urban poor who frequently dominate the political crises of troubled societies. Yet it is difficult in our times, or any times of crisis, to find people willing and able to act with restraint and wisdom, because if such qualities were present among elites, it is possible that crises would be possible to avoid in the first place, which clearly is not the case for our own present evil age.