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The Ramblings of a Bush Philosopher

City and country

Curnow's Hut, Bundaleer Forest, S. Australia
Mist and trees
A hill with Xanthorrhoeas, Heysen trail, Georgetown, S. Aust.
Eucalyptus leucoxilon (S.A. Blue Gum) in the Clare Hills, 
S. Aust.
Written about 2001, modified 2010/11/12
Feedback welcome, daveclarkecb@yahoo.com

In our everyday world, where we are preoccupied with making a living, getting the kids to school, doing the jobs that have to be done, we don't take enough time to appreciate beauty. We don't go out of our way to admire beauty as often as we should. Money is not beautiful, a big income is not beautiful, and the pursuit of wealth is certainly not beautiful.

My impression is that as cities become more crowded so they will become less beautiful, and in consequence, their citizens will loose touch with the peace of mind that natural beauty brings; this can only make them less admirable, less likeable, less happy.

To grow up in the country is to grow up among grasses, shrubs, trees, birds, animals, open spaces. To grow up in what modern cities are becoming is to grow up among buildings, roads, vehicles, noise, exhaust fumes.

City living divorces people from nature

The modern way of life, particularly in cities, is removing us more-and-more from nature. Most calendars no longer show the phases of the Moon, they almost always did when I was a child; city people in particular no longer need to know what the phase of the Moon is, they have artificial light wherever they go. The clock used to be synchronized with the Sun as far as possible, midday and midnight were literally that, the middle of the day and the middle of the night; they were at twelve O'clock; our way of life is now too artificial to bother with synchronizing Sun and clock, so we have 'daylight saving time'. Few modern people know the planets when they see them, which is rarely; when people used to spend a lot of time under the sky at night they would have noticed that some of the 'stars' move relative to the others.

Few city people (and not many modern country people either) would know how to tell which direction was which by looking for the position of the Sun in the sky and considering the time of day and year – most of us don't need to know that any more.

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Where we live and how we live are taking us further from nature, and in the end we cannot live without nature. The accelerating artificiality of city living worries me. There is a growing amount of evidence that our way of life is increasingly out of tune with nature – to the detriment of nature, and therefore to our detriment, because we certainly can't live as a species separate from the biosphere. At present there is a sad lack of understanding in city people of what happens in the county, where milk comes from for example; the environmental implications of a loaf of bread would be beyond the imagination of the great majority of city people, yet it is a staple food, one of those on which their lives depend.

In 1997 almost half the world's population (43%) was living in urban areas. For the less developed countries the figure was 36%, while for the more developed countries it was 74%. Before 2010, for the first time ever, the proportion of the worlds people living in cities exceeded half. Three quarters of the citizens of the developed counties live in cities and these people have very little first-hand knowledge of the workings of nature, and that knowledge is likely to become even less in future generations because population densities are growing. While ignorance of, and distance from, nature is growing in a large proportion of the world's people; the mounting environmental problems are showing us that we must modify our life-styles so that they are less damaging to nature.

Cities are unsustainable

I believe that having more and more people living in bigger and bigger cities cannot continue. There are many reasons for this, and I don't want to detail them here; they include: the vast amount of resources involved in taking city people's requirements to them, the unrealistic cost of housing, the city as a dead-end to the phosphate cycle, water supply limitations and the problem of disposing of refuse and sewage from large cities. (See also Why our civilisation is unsustainable.)