Written about 2001, modified 2010/11/12
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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.
The modern way of life, particularly in cities, is removing us more-and-more
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.
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
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
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