Historical and Theological Underpinnings of Cities
The change ever from a hunter-gather to an agricultural/urban society is described in several ancient stories about "origins" including Judeo-Christian stories in the Bible that have become a part of how we understand ourselves. These early stories are being reexamined by urban writers, sociologists and theologians including David Harvey, Jaques Ellul and Tim Gorringe to try and understand how exactly we're to address another turning point in history where we're forced back on views and our fundamental values.[i]
Cities started from a pick in history to leave the hunter-gatherer "garden". Adam (meaning original guy) and Eve are explained in the very ancient story of Genesis as being in the Garden of Eden where all of their needs are satisfied and they remain in a state of innocence - entirely influenced by nature. They chose yet to eat the fruit from "the tree of the understanding of good and bad". That is a deliberate choice and from that point on individuals must follow through using their knowledge to produce their very own futures rather than being where they'd no need for this particular knowledge, in innocence. Build cities and they are as a consequence locked from Eden and require to till the soil.
The tension between the requirement to cut back our natural resource consumption and also our growing cities isn't new. Our urban culture has ever been a mixture of both tendencies towards greater urban autonomy and greater vulnerability. The ancients could see this and surely this is suggested by the prophets in the Bible. Their potential to fail could never be forgotten although cities became the dwelling place of humanity. The prophets saw their job as reminding people of the chance, even in regards to the issue of resources running out. For example Isaiah assaulted a city that believed they could do what they enjoyed about their future resources:
Though in their pride and arrogance they say,
The bricks are fallen but we will build in hewn rock,
But we will use cedars . Isaiah 9:10.
However, the city had not been seen as basically incorrect, so until it had been about to collapse folks were told to not leave Babylon. Cities were therefore seen to be in some sort of tension between their propensity to create positive opportunities and their tendency to descend into enslavement violence and exploitation. Urban dwellers are captured between what David Harvey calls the "spaces of expectation" and also the chances of destruction. Cities will always have to adapt, risk the likelihood of falling or to react to new challenges.
The last novel in the Bible, Revelation, pitches two scenarios of the future, which stand in anxiety. One is called Zion, the City of God, the eternal city, the town of hope, which can be constructed by human science and craftsmanship (it's imagined as a city of jewels which are of course individual-made achievements) as well this is a city in harmony with nature (a tree of life plus a river of life flow through the city). The future is a clash involving the two scenarios.
Resilience might not be ceaseless but it is all about designing to continue and it's certainly assembled of the hope stories like those.
[i] David Harvey Spaces of Hope, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000; Jaques Ellul, The Meaning of the City, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1970; Tim Gorringe, A Theology of the Built Environmnet: Justice, Empowerment, Redemption, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002; Eric Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, Brazos, Grand Rapids, 2003.