I think of great cities. Rome, Florence, Paris, Cairo, Tokyo. Their individual atoms change over time, but the pattern — what we recognize as the city exists, evolving and growing throughout the centuries. Empires and nations rise and fall around them, but the cities remain.
Cities have always been where humanity moves forward. They are the centers of culture, commerce, and knowledge. While rural areas undoubteadly play an important part in civilization, the city is where the majority of our advancements as a species take place. The residents of rural and urban areas have always been different — in and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. However, as political lines drawn on maps neglect to consider such realities, issues will always tend to arise.
A Polarized Nation
The pattern is prevalent everywhere across the US. Cities tend to be liberal. The greater the population density, generally the more liberal a city will be. Venture out from any city to the rural landscape, and the political view will shift towards the right. As people spread out more and more, the more conservative they will likely be.
This pattern isn’t confined only the the US — it repeats itself everywhere from the UK to New Zealand, from Japan to Egypt, and is very likely consistent throughout history. As access to higher education has increased, the differences have only become more stark, as college-educated individuals flock to cities not only for careers, but also for the culture and the advantages that come from living in cities.
Getting Past Polarization
America faces many challenges, but we increasingly seem ill-equipped within our political framework to do much of anything about it. But maybe there is an opportunity in our polarization, since our polarized society is quite neatly divided between urban and rural. Perhaps this is how we move forward.
The counties that voted for Biden, many of which hold the nation’s largest cities, account for 71% of America’s total economic activity.
Many of my fellow liberal urbanites want to see humanity push aggressively forward. We want to see greater investments in health, the sciences, and technology. We want better, more individualized, and accessible education, not only for children, but through all phases of life. We want to confront the large challenges that we face, including homelessness, lack of equality, and climate change.
While I wish everyone held the same level of ambition that I have for humanity, I get that many on the conservative side don’t hold that same view. And that’s ok. Perhaps we should move forward without them — not out of spite or resentment, but because we want to see positive change and improvement in the world around us.
Cities Working Together
The vast majority of the US economy is driven by cities. We’re the economic powerhouses of the most powerful nation on earth. And yet our influence on national politics is dampened as a result of our political system.
I wonder what we could accomplish if all of the large cities of the US worked together and formed a coalition (or several) that drove larger changes throughout society. Could we work within the confines of our national legal agreements, but effectively become a new nation of cities, who tax our citizens a little more, pool our resources, take advantage of economies of scale, and invest in what we can’t seem to do as a larger nation. We could persue and fund advances in things like education, green energy, and healthcare. Liberals and progressives can seek the world we want to see, and conservatives in rural areas will no longer have to contribute to society. I would like to think there be less resentment on both ends of the political spectrum as a result.
What Could Cities Work Together On
I think there are many critical areas that the cities of the US (and world) could work together on that would not only benefit the inhabitants of our urban areas, but even those that reside outside of our cities.
Education is probably the most important reason to work together. Better education has massive effect across society. A coalition of cities could:
- Provide research into education best practices and new models that could be more effective than current methods.
- Fund technological advances in teaching tools
- Create new methods of delivering educational content that could be utilized by schools everywhere, such as online or hybrid content on subject areas that fuel student curiosity but aren’t currently being provided.
The environmental crisis is one of, if not the largest issues of our time. We currently seem ill-equipped to handle the challenge currently, but perhaps with a motivated population we could make progress on this front. Amongst other things, we could:
- Grants for research into technology that will be necessary in the future, like desalination, improvements to renewable energy.
- Providing funds and incentives for greater adoption of renewable resources within cities.
- Working towards reducing costs and improving what’s possible with urban and vertical farming.
Science & Technology
If the citizens of cities wanted, we could help fund larger scientific enterprises, not only on subjects that directly impact cities, but also which help to fuel curiosity and imagination. Perhaps offering additional funds to NASA, providing research grants for general science studies, or funding research into innovative new technologies.
Since the citizens of this newly established government are generally more accepting of government in general, it could be an opportunity to find innovative new ways working together for the common good. We could create better systems for determining representatives, providing transparency, and using technology to create a bettery system of government.
I suspect there are other issues that could benefit from a unified approach, including healthcare, homelessness, and home affordability.
Towards Something Better
There is an opportunity with our neatly sorted nation — like-minded people who want to see change are neighbors and co-workers, random acquaintances that we pass on the street. We live together in our cities, sharing similar views and ideologies. But our neighborhood of like-minded citizens extends well beyond the city we personally inhabit. Each and every city has citizens who share similar views to those of other cities. Perhaps we need to start seeing ourselves as citizens of the same nation — a nation composed of cities. A nation that has the ambition to tackle big challenges, the economic prowess to accomplish them, and a unified view to move the world in a positive direction.