On the last few remaining days of my winter break I finished up the book, The Preindustrial City by Gideon Sjoberg. This book has provided me with tremendous insight into the beginnings of cities and how preindustrial cities inform our modern cities. While this book was written in the 1960s, therefore there must be some new discoveries and theories, this book still provides the underlying foundation and theories from which I can later expand on. We learn from anthropological, historical, and archeological data that cities first took shape between 6000 to 5000 BCE in Mesopotamia and Meso-America.
As such, there were three criteria required for these cities to emerge. The first is ecology meaning they needed the climate and conditions for agriculture to feed a large population. The second is advanced technology meaning irrigation techniques, domestication of animals and plants (wheat and corn), the wheel, and metal implements. These various technologies helped to generate agricultural surpluses which allowed some members of the population to pursue a trade beyond farming and hunting. The third are developed social organizations. Social organizations institute a power base that directs the economies of administration, storage, and transport, as well as religion and knowledge practices.
This last criterion, social organizations, is what really intrigues me. Since I started studying urban planning, one major question is always in the back of my mind: How does the social organization and resulting land uses of cities affect the people who live within them? For example if a polluting industry is placed near a neighborhood, how are those people affected? What liberties are taken away from the pure act of location? The neighborhood may subsequently be exposed to pollution, noise, traffic, and other ills. Ultimately every action taken in a city has a consequence. What is doing harm and how do we avoid harm? I think this is the ultimate mission of the planner. To do no harm and make cities better for all people.