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COUNTERPOINT: People are Cities

Source: Time Magazine Cover Archive

Last week, my esteemed colleague Z laid out the argument that cities are people. Read it here. Cities are people; so too is a city, in the singular sense, itself people in the plural. So goes the argument. Cities are people; a city is people. Thus spoke Z.

At least, thus I interpreted. And for the most part, I agree with my interpretation – although this flexibility with the plural, I admit, leaves something to be desired, a void, an emptiness akin to that which follows a nice and long telephone conversation with a distant lover. Thus, I find the following argument, my argument, laid out henceforth, more complete, and as such, more compelling: people are cities. And each person (singular) is a city (singular). You are a city. I am a city. But you and I? You and I, us people, are cities. People are cities.

But forego mere semantics! Proof is in our evolution, deeply rooted. Billions of years ago. Single-celled organisms, mere cells, like people today, ruled the Earth. For nearly three billion years (billion!), these single-celled organisms were the only game in town. Nature was the ocean, lifeless but for these single-celled organisms, and the lifeless Earth beneath it. Fast-forward to about 1.2 billion years ago, and now you have the first multi-cellular organisms.

But these first multi-cellular organisms were still very primitive, and remained very primitive for hundreds of millions of years. In an analogy that, as we’ll see, runs far deeper than coincidence, these early multi-cellular organisms evolved slowly, like early humans who existed as hunter/gatherers for millions of years (roughly speaking; the earliest stone tools have been estimated to be about three million years old), before rather suddenly, not until only about 10,000 BC, transforming into a species of settlers and farmers and builders and cities. Like the urban explosion (10,000 BC – present), multi-cellular life underwent the Cambrian Explosion (540 – 500 million years ago), rather suddenly evolving from small clusters of cells into a diverse array of marine plants and animals, large and small, fins and legs, scales, shells, and skin.

Seemingly overnight, cells – microscopic little cells – had banded together to transform the Earth. Forming fish; then forming trees; then forming people.

And now, seemingly overnight, we people – insignificant little people – have banded together to transform the Earth, once more. We people – each of us a city of cells – forming cities of people, in our own image.

Because people are cities.

Cities forming cities.




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