Staring out my window at the city below, I often think how amazing it is that so many people from so many other places decided to move here, and that so many people from this place decided to stay here.
There are now millions of people here.
What’s so special about here?
My here is like so many other heres. Travel up the coast, you’ll see plenty of places where a city could have grown, but didn’t. Those places look a lot like this place, back before the people came.
I’m sure there are many good reasons why people came here, but I’m also sure there are also bad reasons why people came here. Some of these reasons may have been better there than here. No place is perfect, all have their drawbacks, on balance it’s really hard to say one raw piece of coastal land is better or worse than another raw piece of coastal land.
Yet they all came here. Why here?
At some point, probably very early in the process, people started coming here and staying here primarily because other people were coming and staying here. This positive feedback loop may be the most powerful reason why millions of people decide to move to, and stay in, a particular place. As more move and stay, even more move and stay.
And when this happens at a time of dramatic increases in overall population, it’s like city growth on steroids.
This city creation force has been so powerful, it feels permanent. But it isn’t. Cities die. We know this from archeology and history, and we can visit Detroit and see a city in the process of dying.
People leave, which causes more people to leave, which causes even more people to leave. Sometime this city destruction force is more powerful than the city creation force, quickly unwinding centuries of creation. Other times it’s a slow aging process, as a city stops growing but its people (mostly) stay put.
By most accounts, the world’s dramatic population growth over the last century is slowing, and soon will stop. In my lifetime it will start declining.
What this will mean for my city is not clear. On one hand, I expect people will continue to want to live where other people live, so the dynamic that led to the creation of the city will continue. But on the other hand, so much of the vibrancy we associate with a healthy city is, in reality, that city’s success at replenishing and growing its ranks. As more and more of our cities find their ranks shrinking, how will that effect their vitality?
I’m not contemplating anything on the magnitude of Rome c. 100 turning into Rome c. 650, but I do sense that a lot of my world view has been constructed on top of an assumption that there will always be ever more people here. That’s how it’s been, but that’s not how it will be.
How will this change things? The realtor’s cliché “They’re not making more land” will no longer be true, for once we’re no longer making more people we will, in effect, be making more land as that which had been occupied is left vacant.
A lot else will change too, but staring out my window at the teeming multitudes below, I’m having a hard time getting my head around this future reality. All I can think is how amazing it is that so many decided to be here now.