Urban Life

Modern humans have only been around… what? 300’000 years, or so? Hell, there were still woolly mammoths (up until 3’~4’000 years ago) and saber-toothed smilodons (up until ~10’000 years ago) and other megafauna for a long time when modern humans — i.e., “cave men” — were around. We lived for ~295’000 years or so surrounded by such megafauna. We lived in small human settlements, and it took us about 290’000 of those years to really get going with cities. We’ve only had what we could call “cities” and true urban agglomerations for about 10’000 years or so (post Holocene). That’s a very short time frame, and biologically we haven’t changed any further. 

The thing about our early cities, though, was that they were small. Harappa at its peak (2600 B.C. – 1900 B.C.) had only around 23’~24’000 people. They had clay and bronze, but no 5G internet and no plastics or chemicals. So I guess 23’~24’000 is a pretty big city for that level of technology. 

Have we actually gotten used to being urban creatures? 

Greater Tokyo today (38 million souls) or Greater Seoul today (26 million) are god-like in size compared to what humanity had been used to for thousands of years. Hell, even Lagos today (22~23 million) or Jakara today (~30 million) are huge, ungovernable masses of pulsating humanity, much more than our ancestors would have been able to comprehend. (Those two cities are also way, way poorer than Tokyo or Seoul: imagine Tokyo or Seoul, but poor and with no infrastructure.)

I posit that modern humans are still getting used to being urban creatures, in dense vertical social structures, i.e., vertical, in the sense that the elevator is the modern-day public agora, where strangers interact on an equal footing. 

I think back upon our most-recent extinction event, the Chicxulub asteroid that landed about 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and ending the Cretaceous Period. Something like 75% of all life died, and nothing survived bigger than a small dog.

This was, though, a great opportunity for our ancestors, early mammals. The past ~66 million years or so have been dominated by mammals (yay!), as well as birds and flowering plants, as our Earth has been cooling and drying, all atop our current configuration of continents.

The asteroid hit in the Yucatan. It launched particulate matter up into the sky, blocking out the Sun. It caused a 30-meter (100-ft.) tsunami to race all the way to about Houston, leveling trees, etc. It also caused fiery, flaming detritus to fall all across the Earth, other burning rocks landing here and there, etc., thereby causing more fires. The first to die were the massive herbivores, like most sauropods. The dust blocked the sun, so no photosynthesis could occur, so all the plants died. The carnivores survived a bit longer, being able to eat the herbivore carrion, but then they, too, died. The lack of sunlight also made it cold. Only small, fur-covered animals, that could burrow underground and that didn’t eat much, could survive. 

After 65.7 million years (some 300’000 years ago), modern humans came about. We went walkabout for 295’000 of those years, hunting saber-toothed smilodons and woolly mammoths, so to speak, settling every corner of every continent, and we didn’t start real cities until about 10’000 years ago. Since then, to be honest, nothing much has happened. (I mean, I was born in 1975, but that’s about it.) 

Cities are the future of humanity. We are urban creatures, extremely social, and we thrive and love our urban landscapes.

Earth Day is tomorrow, April 22; a Friday this year. I recommend we all go read some Carl Sagan and watch David Attenborough. (Also, Queen Elizabeth was born on this day, April 21, 1926, so she turns 96-years-old today.)

Categories: Uncategorized

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