February 2012

Cities Are People Too

Urbanization has become a central part of human life, and there's good reason for it.

As a rule, many point to urbanization as a necessary evil. Yes it contributes to disease, environmental destruction, overpopulation, crime, poverty, bad drivers; but it also serves as beacons of what humanity can accomplish. Cities are monuments to human progress, and though they’re not always pretty, though they don’t always seem to lift humanity up, they are definitively the most incredible achievement of human endeavor thus far. If one looks at a city as a work of art, as an entity entire of itself, one can see that we have even bestowed upon our cities our own natures. It’s with this lens that I prefer to look at the cities that I visit, as if the concrete and steel and glass are the body, and its inhabitants merely the blood that keep the whole creature breathing.

A recent article in Project Syndicate by professor and author Daniel Bell entitled Self and the City, expounds upon the idea that a city can embody a persona, and within that persona the more temporary lives of the people that live there can be influenced. He makes the points that in 1800 only 3% of the world’s population lived within an urban environment, the result of 12,800 years (give or take) of gradually perfecting and improving upon the city; man’s habitat, as it were. However, by 2025 China will have 15 mega cities of over 25 million people apiece. In fact, urbanization has already risen to nearly 80%, and is likely to climb much higher in the next two decades. Urban environments provide people with a number of benefits, many seen, some unseen, and we have become to adept at organizing and running them that there’s little drawback to living in one.

One of those unseen benefits is being a part of the city’s persona, being a blood cell in the big manufactured beast and owning a small part of its being. Boston is a perfect example of this, a lovingly cultivated city with all of the modern amenities of any major metropolis, and one jealous of its history. It is an old city, by American standards, and the people are possessive of that history. However, the further you drive from The Green, the most you will understand that Boston is a hard laborer in a three-piece suit. The harbors, the small cramped neighborhoods, the harsh bite of the Boston American accent; all serve to show that Boston is still a hardscrabble city that has come by its success honestly.

Traditional Classrooms Won't Provide A Modern Workforce, But Current Reforms Won't Either

The modern workforce needs a drastically different kind of classroom, but current "reforms" aren't cutting it.

I’m a teacher and blogger, and as such I sometimes feel like I’m straddling a generational divide. On one hand I go to work every day and teach in a classroom that looks remarkably similar to one a hundred years ago. The board has turned from black to white, and I’ve pushed the desks out of their rows and into groups, but a child from the 19th century could walk in and recognize it for what it is. Can the same be said of the workplace? My other workplace is a coffee-shop, library, livingroom, or park bench; any place that I can get a wireless signal. I teach my students how to write from a model, how to use a school database, and how to use notecards during a speech. However, I get home and I research by surfing the news outlets on my smartphone, I write from a perspective (not a model), and if I present something I use slick presenting tools and I never look at a notecard. This begs the question, “What are we really preparing our kids to do?”