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The New Death of the City

Kirkhill

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Cities dying is nothing new. The Old World is full of abandoned cities. Some get reborn but many just get covered over by deserts, grazing land and forests.



After vanquishing everything from newsprint to retail stores, the pulverizing, inescapable power of the Internet has its sights set on cities, or, more precisely, density—aided and abetted by its accomplice, Covid-19.

If this future—call it the death of density—comes to pass, it spells the unraveling of physical urbanity as we know it, placing cities, especially high-cost cities, in grave danger of descending into a vicious circle of depopulation, followed by de-commercialization, de-monetization, declining services, and so on.

The events of 2020 crippled the machinery that undergirds density. Taxpaying workers, revenue-generating shoppers, free-spending tourists—the people and activities that finance the infrastructure, mass transit, and municipal workers—are disappearing. And as they head for the exits, we’re left with an urbanism that’s coarser, less forgiving, more dangerous, more radical, and more expensive. If cities won’t dematerialize overnight, they risk, like General MacArthur, slowly fading away.


For some of us, a vanishing few, this is not a new phenomenon. It duplicates the flight to suburbia, but on a grander scale.


Consider: it was just a few years ago that global terrorism was seen as an existential threat to cities. September 11 changed the way we safeguard everything from office buildings to airports and touched off years of warfare. But the impact of 9/11 was minor and temporary compared with the long-term, density-destroying impact of Covid-19. The national pandemic accelerated the process of Internet-enabled remote work, which had already been underway for years.

Consder: World War One changed the way we saw the world - politically, economically, technically, socially - authority died and touched off years of warfare. WWI was followed immediately by the Spanish Flu which killed off millions more than were killed during WWI. Henry Ford's car started the move from city centre to country estates. WW2 destroyed many cities requiring them to be rebuilt, with superhighways connecting them and low density commuter suburbs.

In North America cities had been spared the destruction of WWI and WWII but the citizens were strongly affected by the Spanish Flu and previous plagues and pestilence. When the opportunity came to flee to their own individual fortresses in suburbia and travel in their personal 60 mph cocoons listening to their radio stations they jumped at it. They abandoned their tenements, their churches and their extended families.

Model T - Commodore 64
WWI - September11th
Spanish Flu - Covid 19
Highways - Internet




How many ancient cities were abandoned due to plague and pestilence caused by too many people in too small a space and too much filth?


About 150 AD Rome was at its height. There were over a million inhabitants in Rome where Antontinus Pius of Nimes in southern France was emperor. He was occupying Britain as far north as the Highland Line while squabbling over Baghdad with the Persians. The Mediterranean basin was home to 75,000,000 people. The economy was booming as evidenced by the lead dust found in ice cores in Greenland. The lead dust came from the Spanish Silver mines that produced Lead as a byproduct. Or perhaps they were Lead mines that produced Silver as a byproduct. Either way they underpinned the Mediterranean economy. And the weather was warm.

And then it got cold. The Roman Climactic Optimum ended. In Mesopotamia, where the Romans and Persians where having their debates a plague broke out in 165 AD and killed off the Roman invaders. The survivors returned to their homes and inoculated the rest of the Mediterranean basin. Including Rome. That pulse lasted until about 189 by most estimates. That plague killed off some 7,000,000 people across the Roman empire. Up to 1/3 of the population in places. In Rome up to 2000 people a day were dying in 189. 5 days - 10,000 people. 50 days 100,000 people. 50 days and 10% of the 1,000,000 inhabitants of Rome. And the plague lasted for 24 years - 8,760 days. Greenland Ice Core lead pollution fell off for the next five centuries and didn't really start recovering until 640 AD. By some estimates the recovery didn't recover until 900 AD. Sporadic resurgences of plague suppressed any incipient economic recoveries and demand for silver.

In 249 the Plague of Cyprian broke out. It lasted until 270. It also drove the Greenland Ice Core lead levels to their lowest since 900 BC and the later years of the Phoenician-Carthaginian economy.

That dying destroyed not just armies but authority and taxpayers. The Romans invited wandering Germans from the Baltic to fill their taxpaying vacuum and their hollow army. The Germans came.

Concurrently the Baltic had become less attractive as its coastal marshes flooded and the Germans went a wandering, taking whatever jobs they could find. the Burgundians, Scandinavian Germans from the island of Bornholm in the Baltic packed up and left - joining the wandering in search of dry land. They washed up in the upper Rhine, just over the Alps from Milan as foederati. Rome also started hiring Frisians and the rest of Beowulf's Baltic buddies, the Angles, Saxons, Goths and Swedes, to man Hadrian's Wall at places like Hexham and Dumfries. But that is digressing.

Back to the plague and Rome.

In the middle of all this death and dying and job loss and cold weather and hunger the politicians were blamed. The Five Good Emperors were followed by the 193 AD year of Five Emperors and then the 238 AD year of Six Emperors after Rome's German army mutinied over poor wages. An unstable anarchy prevailed for over a century, from 165 to Diocletian's reforms in 286 AD.

And Rome was replaced.

Milan, facing the Adriatic, became the center of Western Administration.

Another thing that the death and dying spawned was a whole raft of new religions as people lost faith in their old gods. And hermits headed out into the boonies to live long and peaceful lives. Unfortunately for them their isolation didn't last long as people from the cities soon followed their examples.

By the time Augustine of Carthage was moaning about Germans sacking Rome and his hometown (strangely a city previously deleted by the Romans) in 410 Rome was struggling to exist. That struggle wasn't helped when Milan was abandoned for Ravenna in 402.

By 400 AD the cold weather was getting colder and the Late Antique Little Ice Age started. And the Rhine started to regularly freeze over in the winter. Food supplies became shorter. People were encouraged by conditions to disperse, cross the ice looking for useful squats and freeholds, rely on themselves, hunt and gather more. They couldn't rely on free issues of daily bread, wine and olive oil. Or trips to the Coliseum.

Rome was sacked by Galla Placidia's Goths under Alaric in 410, threatened by her daughter Honoria's Huns under Attila in 451 and her great-niece Licinia Eudoxia's Vandals under Geiseric in 455. Concurrently Hengest and Horsa, Anglo-Saxon Frisians of some sort established the current Germanic regime in Britain.

And the cold weather brought more famines and more plagues.

In 547 the Justinian plague spread across both the Med and the Baltic. Those plagues lasted in cycles as long as the cold weather and the famines. And people continued to disperse.

In 547 Totila, another Goth, evacuated Rome - emptied it - reduced its population to zero.

Rome was no more.

By 549 Rome was reborn as people started to trickle back into it. But recovery was impeded by continuing wars, lawlessness in Europe due to the lack of an Imperium over the dispersed population, poor harvests, famines and more plagues.

Those plagues continued until the weather turned warmer and facilitated the rise of the Carolingian and Mohammedan Imperia about 800 AD and modern cities like Paris and London were born and Rome continued her recovery. By 800 AD she had recovered to a population of about 100,000. Roughly the size of her contemporaries, Paris and London but only 10% of her imperial zenith under Antoninus.

Cities come and go.

And that scares the bejazus out of insurance companies and politicians.

Covid may end up doing what they feared a little bit of water in the streets would do.
 

mariomike

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Depends on your career choice. My sister chose the military. They sent her to Cold Lake, Alberta.

Choose the emergency services, and many out of town applicants apply to the big city departments.

"I found it interesting that those fire fighters with many years experience with a full-time fire department elsewhere were willing to leave to pursue there ( sic ) “dreams” as they put it and work for Toronto Fire."
 

Kirkhill

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Sorry. Your post was about a page long.

Pretty hard to reply to a single word, if that is even a real word.
Mike - I wasn't talking about firefighters of any sort. I was talking about people leaving cities because of plagues and technology. Apologies if you found it long and boring.

Are you sure you weren't responding to somebody else? Hunh? :)
 

Kirkhill

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And for the record I was employing it in the first sense. :)
I couldn't make a connection between your comment and my peroration.
Cheers.

Definition of 'hunh'


hunh in American English​

(hʌ̃)

INTERJECTION Informal
1. used to ask a question
2. used to express anger, contempt, etc.: a snorting sound

huh

Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved​
 

mariomike

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I was talking about people leaving cities because of plagues and technology.
If technology allows you to work remotely, wherever that may be, that's great. Not all jobs enjoy that luxury.

Last pandemic was 1918. But, cities like New York and Toronto roared back in the 1920's.

In spite of the current pandemic, house prices in Toronto are skyrocketing. If it was up to me, as a retired person, I would sell and move to Arizona. :)
 

Kirkhill

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Seen -

One of the points made in the original article that got me spinning off in the Roman tangent was

The events of 2020 crippled the machinery that undergirds density. Taxpaying workers, revenue-generating shoppers, free-spending tourists—the people and activities that finance the infrastructure, mass transit, and municipal workers—are disappearing. And as they head for the exits, we’re left with an urbanism that’s coarser, less forgiving, more dangerous, more radical, and more expensive. If cities won’t dematerialize overnight, they risk, like General MacArthur, slowly fading away.

Firefighters (and for that matter soldiers) exist because of cities. If people choose to revert to living in widely dispersed family compounds like the Saxons then there will be no garbagemen, sewer workers or firefighters. Those people provide necessary services to cities but only exist in their modern high tech forms because of the needs of the cities. They become redundant if cities are declared surplus to requirement.
 

mariomike

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And as they head for the exits, we’re left with an urbanism that’s coarser, less forgiving, more dangerous, more radical, and more expensive. If cities won’t dematerialize overnight, they risk, like General MacArthur, slowly fading away.

I live in a former village that was annexed by the City. We don't even have sidewalks. And, they don't pick up our garbage from the back of the house anymore like they used to. We now have to haul it down to the street.

I used to go to a dude ranch in Arizona when I was younger. Figured I would spend my sunset years in the Grand Canyon State. But, the decision is not entirely up to me.

My father was an avid golfer and had the very same ambition. Retire to AZ. But, it didn't work out for him either. I'm not a golfer. Just love what the state has to offer.
 
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daftandbarmy

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Cities dying is nothing new. The Old World is full of abandoned cities. Some get reborn but many just get covered over by deserts, grazing land and forests.






For some of us, a vanishing few, this is not a new phenomenon. It duplicates the flight to suburbia, but on a grander scale.




Consder: World War One changed the way we saw the world - politically, economically, technically, socially - authority died and touched off years of warfare. WWI was followed immediately by the Spanish Flu which killed off millions more than were killed during WWI. Henry Ford's car started the move from city centre to country estates. WW2 destroyed many cities requiring them to be rebuilt, with superhighways connecting them and low density commuter suburbs.

In North America cities had been spared the destruction of WWI and WWII but the citizens were strongly affected by the Spanish Flu and previous plagues and pestilence. When the opportunity came to flee to their own individual fortresses in suburbia and travel in their personal 60 mph cocoons listening to their radio stations they jumped at it. They abandoned their tenements, their churches and their extended families.

Model T - Commodore 64
WWI - September11th
Spanish Flu - Covid 19
Highways - Internet




How many ancient cities were abandoned due to plague and pestilence caused by too many people in too small a space and too much filth?


About 150 AD Rome was at its height. There were over a million inhabitants in Rome where Antontinus Pius of Nimes in southern France was emperor. He was occupying Britain as far north as the Highland Line while squabbling over Baghdad with the Persians. The Mediterranean basin was home to 75,000,000 people. The economy was booming as evidenced by the lead dust found in ice cores in Greenland. The lead dust came from the Spanish Silver mines that produced Lead as a byproduct. Or perhaps they were Lead mines that produced Silver as a byproduct. Either way they underpinned the Mediterranean economy. And the weather was warm.

And then it got cold. The Roman Climactic Optimum ended. In Mesopotamia, where the Romans and Persians where having their debates a plague broke out in 165 AD and killed off the Roman invaders. The survivors returned to their homes and inoculated the rest of the Mediterranean basin. Including Rome. That pulse lasted until about 189 by most estimates. That plague killed off some 7,000,000 people across the Roman empire. Up to 1/3 of the population in places. In Rome up to 2000 people a day were dying in 189. 5 days - 10,000 people. 50 days 100,000 people. 50 days and 10% of the 1,000,000 inhabitants of Rome. And the plague lasted for 24 years - 8,760 days. Greenland Ice Core lead pollution fell off for the next five centuries and didn't really start recovering until 640 AD. By some estimates the recovery didn't recover until 900 AD. Sporadic resurgences of plague suppressed any incipient economic recoveries and demand for silver.

In 249 the Plague of Cyprian broke out. It lasted until 270. It also drove the Greenland Ice Core lead levels to their lowest since 900 BC and the later years of the Phoenician-Carthaginian economy.

That dying destroyed not just armies but authority and taxpayers. The Romans invited wandering Germans from the Baltic to fill their taxpaying vacuum and their hollow army. The Germans came.

Concurrently the Baltic had become less attractive as its coastal marshes flooded and the Germans went a wandering, taking whatever jobs they could find. the Burgundians, Scandinavian Germans from the island of Bornholm in the Baltic packed up and left - joining the wandering in search of dry land. They washed up in the upper Rhine, just over the Alps from Milan as foederati. Rome also started hiring Frisians and the rest of Beowulf's Baltic buddies, the Angles, Saxons, Goths and Swedes, to man Hadrian's Wall at places like Hexham and Dumfries. But that is digressing.

Back to the plague and Rome.

In the middle of all this death and dying and job loss and cold weather and hunger the politicians were blamed. The Five Good Emperors were followed by the 193 AD year of Five Emperors and then the 238 AD year of Six Emperors after Rome's German army mutinied over poor wages. An unstable anarchy prevailed for over a century, from 165 to Diocletian's reforms in 286 AD.

And Rome was replaced.

Milan, facing the Adriatic, became the center of Western Administration.

Another thing that the death and dying spawned was a whole raft of new religions as people lost faith in their old gods. And hermits headed out into the boonies to live long and peaceful lives. Unfortunately for them their isolation didn't last long as people from the cities soon followed their examples.

By the time Augustine of Carthage was moaning about Germans sacking Rome and his hometown (strangely a city previously deleted by the Romans) in 410 Rome was struggling to exist. That struggle wasn't helped when Milan was abandoned for Ravenna in 402.

By 400 AD the cold weather was getting colder and the Late Antique Little Ice Age started. And the Rhine started to regularly freeze over in the winter. Food supplies became shorter. People were encouraged by conditions to disperse, cross the ice looking for useful squats and freeholds, rely on themselves, hunt and gather more. They couldn't rely on free issues of daily bread, wine and olive oil. Or trips to the Coliseum.

Rome was sacked by Galla Placidia's Goths under Alaric in 410, threatened by her daughter Honoria's Huns under Attila in 451 and her great-niece Licinia Eudoxia's Vandals under Geiseric in 455. Concurrently Hengest and Horsa, Anglo-Saxon Frisians of some sort established the current Germanic regime in Britain.

And the cold weather brought more famines and more plagues.

In 547 the Justinian plague spread across both the Med and the Baltic. Those plagues lasted in cycles as long as the cold weather and the famines. And people continued to disperse.

In 547 Totila, another Goth, evacuated Rome - emptied it - reduced its population to zero.

Rome was no more.

By 549 Rome was reborn as people started to trickle back into it. But recovery was impeded by continuing wars, lawlessness in Europe due to the lack of an Imperium over the dispersed population, poor harvests, famines and more plagues.

Those plagues continued until the weather turned warmer and facilitated the rise of the Carolingian and Mohammedan Imperia about 800 AD and modern cities like Paris and London were born and Rome continued her recovery. By 800 AD she had recovered to a population of about 100,000. Roughly the size of her contemporaries, Paris and London but only 10% of her imperial zenith under Antoninus.

Cities come and go.

And that scares the bejazus out of insurance companies and politicians.

Covid may end up doing what they feared a little bit of water in the streets would do.

There are those who enjoy predicting the death of the city as a human construct, especially during times of great crisis of one kind or another, then there are the people who know what they're talking about :)


Big cities will not die as a result of the pandemic, says city builder​

Will big cities die?

“No, I don’t think so, because the essential forces behind them are very strong,” said Berridge. “Will significant change happen in terms of where we live and how we live? A bit, but slowly.”

 

mariomike

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I think most people tend to stick to their neighbourhoods.

Taking Toronto as an example - only because it is the one I am familiar with - it has upwards of 240 official and unofficial neighbourhoods within the city's boundaries.

I became pretty familiar with most of them only after I started working. But, since I retired, I pretty much stick to my own neighbourhood. Same as when I was a boy.
 

Loachman

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And the weather was warm.

And then it got cold. The Roman Climactic Optimum ended.
Ah, yes - climate change.

Strange lack of SUVs and coal-fired generating stations.

Our climate has merely been returning to normal after the Little Ice Age.
 

Weinie

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Ah, yes - climate change.

Strange lack of SUVs and coal-fired generating stations.

Our climate has merely been returning to normal after the Little Ice Age.
That is heresy. You will be burnt at the stake.
 

GR66

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Predicting the end of cities while were still in the middle of a pandemic is like saying there is no shoreline when you're in the trough of a wave.

Of course lots of urban businesses and services are hurt. They are hurt in rural areas too. De-urbanization will have to overcome a pretty strong 500 year trend if his prediction is to come true:

urban-and-rural-population-2050.png

The other thing to remember when talking about the "death" of cities. When people are leaving cities they for the most part aren't leaving urban areas for rural areas. They are leaving the most densely populated urban areas for somewhat less densely populated urban areas. They're not trading cities for farms. They're trading downtown cores for places that still have all the amenities of a city within reach, but just have a bit more private space around them.

The City of Toronto is a city. To the North-East Markham is a city by name but most Toronto people would call it the suburbs. North of that Stouffville is a town but only the people around the very edges (a small minority of the population) would be called rural. A little further North of that is the community of Ballantrae. A collection of mainly estate homes in "the country". Almost none of the people in any of these communities leads a remotely rural life. They are urban dwellers with varying degrees of urban density. Generally the more money you have, the less density you can afford. That means that most of the population will continue to live in relatively high density communities. Maybe not in high cost areas like The Beaches, or Manhattan, but I think cities are not only here to stay, they will continue to grow and spread.

And maybe using Rome as the example of a dying city isn't the best choice. It did last for 1,000 years afterall!
 

Loachman

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So 800+ more years of Toronto?

Maybe eventual death will not be so bad, after all.
 

daftandbarmy

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Predicting the end of cities while were still in the middle of a pandemic is like saying there is no shoreline when you're in the trough of a wave.

Of course lots of urban businesses and services are hurt. They are hurt in rural areas too. De-urbanization will have to overcome a pretty strong 500 year trend if his prediction is to come true:

View attachment 64820

The other thing to remember when talking about the "death" of cities. When people are leaving cities they for the most part aren't leaving urban areas for rural areas. They are leaving the most densely populated urban areas for somewhat less densely populated urban areas. They're not trading cities for farms. They're trading downtown cores for places that still have all the amenities of a city within reach, but just have a bit more private space around them.

The City of Toronto is a city. To the North-East Markham is a city by name but most Toronto people would call it the suburbs. North of that Stouffville is a town but only the people around the very edges (a small minority of the population) would be called rural. A little further North of that is the community of Ballantrae. A collection of mainly estate homes in "the country". Almost none of the people in any of these communities leads a remotely rural life. They are urban dwellers with varying degrees of urban density. Generally the more money you have, the less density you can afford. That means that most of the population will continue to live in relatively high density communities. Maybe not in high cost areas like The Beaches, or Manhattan, but I think cities are not only here to stay, they will continue to grow and spread.

And maybe using Rome as the example of a dying city isn't the best choice. It did last for 1,000 years afterall!

But about 90% of those people will not be in North America.

Just sayin'...
 

mariomike

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Without being too coarse, but on the subject of girls, in a big city there are lots of them. For those interested in that sort of thing, YMMV
 

Loachman

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Without being too coarse, but on the subject of girls, in a big city there are lots of them. For those interested in that sort of thing, YMMV
I've always found them to be generally shallow and plasticky with no mental or personality difference between them.

Living in a big city is another disadvantage as well. I drive past on Highway 401 fairly regularly, but have not gone south until at least Mississauga for years.
 

Kirkhill

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There are those who enjoy predicting the death of the city as a human construct, especially during times of great crisis of one kind or another, then there are the people who know what they're talking about :)


Big cities will not die as a result of the pandemic, says city builder​

Will big cities die?

“No, I don’t think so, because the essential forces behind them are very strong,” said Berridge. “Will significant change happen in terms of where we live and how we live? A bit, but slowly.”

Says the guy that builds cities for a living...
🤔
 
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