We are accustomed to thinking of the great cities of the world as containing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. I suppose most folks would think that it is their great size that gives them whatever greatness we attribute to them.
But in his excellent book Deep Economy Bill McKibben observes that some of the cities that have produced some of history’s most notable people and events were hardly more than small towns by contemporary standards.
He notes that most of the Greek city-states of antiquity averaged only about 10,000 residents.
“The Rome of Michaelangelo had 55,000 people. The Florence of Botticelli and Leonardo 40,000. A decade after the American Revolution, at the time of the first U.S. census, New York had 33,131 residents and Boston 18,320.”
Our closest city is Danville, Virginia: population 42,852.
No one is likely to confuse Danville with Renaissance Rome, or the Boston of the American Revolution, but history tells us that it doesn’t take millions of people crowded into a city to create an environment from which genius can emerge.
I think history also tells us that there is a tipping point, past which cities have exhausted the resources of their surrounding rural communities and such a concentration of folks becomes more much more of a liability than an asset. But I’ll save that discussion for another day.