I love cities. Perhaps it’s a cringe, a product of growing up in a small one. My hometown, Kansas City, is a city. It’s in the name for fuck’s sake- but only barely so. The metro area barely tops two million and it has a decidedly provincial air. The sort of place that takes pride in having ‘small town vibes with big city amenities’ despite having neither. Leaving that glorified Midwestern truckstop, I craved cities. Real cities. Crowds, subways, name recognition. I’ve ticked off population centers, names that go at the top of lists for most dense, most crowded, biggest. I’ve commuted in Mumbai and Beijing, vacationed in Sao Paulo, drank in watering holes in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, and hiked above snow covered Seoul. Of the biggest, most notable, and most crowded, I’ve lived in or at a minimum spent significant amounts of time in almost all of them. The city I call home is no slouch either, 14 million is far from small.
I’m starting to think, though, I might have been mistaken. Maybe my tastes have grown or mellowed as I’ve aged. Maybe I always saw myself as a city guy and felt I needed to earn my stripes. Now that I wear them with pride bordering on pretension, I may have moved on. Nature is what calls to me these days. I discovered hiking in mountains surrounding some of these huge cities, but real nature, the undisturbed, unspoiled kind has captured my heart. I now find the greatest joy in finding the most out of the way, beautiful places. With the same passion I chased the crowds I now seek the tallest trees, the biggest glaciers, and best stargazing spots.
Normally I would chuck this up to the evolution of taste with age. The music, books, style we like change often for the better, particularly for those of us who grew up in the vast, featureless regions known as the blandlands. What has really evolved, though, is something philosophical. A deeper question regarding the very nature of cities, and the potential folly in the endeavor of their creation.
So much, good and bad, of cities reflects the ideologies of man, again both good and bad. Slums and skyscrapers, dehumanizing edifices meant to glorify power, soulless spaghetti balls of freeways, all represent in steel and concrete the thinking of the powerful. One can’t help but notice so, so many mistakes. Even in the best run cities, the cities that claim to be the most livable still end up fucked in their own way. I guess the best laid plans and the folly of good intentions are at play here, but there might be more. What if the whole idea of a huge city is a bad idea from the start. Maybe it is so against the natural state of man that we can only get it to be ‘Ok’ for most people, and this alone would be an incredible achievement. Only ‘x’ amount dehumanizing might really be the goal of something that exists to the contrary of who we are as people.
If this is true, which I suspect it is, I feel I have two paths- to abandon this ‘civilization’ for the comforting bosom of nature, or embrace the deeply dystopian and learn to embrace its cold fist. Of course nature seems manifestly better, but perhaps the glow of streetlights and the sound of police sirens is more interesting. I have no doubt meaning could be derived from both. I would imagine too I would find happiness in both, the sick fuck I am. Perhaps a mix, which I’ve done in the past few cities I’ve lived in, is best. It’s a question I think all of us must ask ourselves at some point, and each person must answer for themselves. Polluted air and wild times or fresh air serenity. Strange the choices of modern Homo Sapiens.