The Urban-Darwin Effect

When we ignore our cities, we short change humanity.

Let’s go back. Way back. About 12,000 years. In Mesopotamia.


Charles Darwin, dapper urban gentleman

Merchants, farmers, clerics and others came together in large groups to form places that we now call cities. This experiment in mass human assembly led to huge advancements in ancient societies like public markets, food systems, cultural growth and medical treatment. For the first time, it was easy for human beings to share their thoughts and ideas with others who resided close by- their “neighbors.”

In the dozen millennia that would follow, cities saw their collective importance grow by leaps and bounds. Constant trials and testing against a city’s vibrancy and sustainability produced a resilient prototype worthy of repeating around the world. Cities were integral to innovations in capital markets, public health, architecture and the social sciences. Cities spawned the world’s great learning institutions, hospitals and governing structures. The Louvre, Harvard University, the Sydney Opera House- all in cities.

This history shows us the significance of great places all over the globe. And, like everything with value, we need to treat cities well.  Cities are unique in their flavors, but common in their importance. When our public policies don’t provide for them in a caring and thoughtful fashion we all lose, whether we call one home or live outside its boundaries. The municipal archetype, itself the product of eons of refinement, requires nourishment so that its people- and ALL people- can benefit.

Policy makers must heed these lessons of history better. In my state, policy makers disinvest in cities resulting in financial, economic and public health crises. In other places similar treatment has led to parallel predicaments. Much of Michigan’s economic decline stems from the troubles of its largest cities. Some smaller ones, too. The state’s decisions to reallocate assets elsewhere make them less competitive, which, if you follow Darwin’s logic of competition for limited resources, comes as no surprise. The reverse, of course, is also true. I hope we figure it out before it is too late.