Last week I wrote how the ancient cities of Iraq thrived and fell for not dissimilar reasons as cities today. But what of the ancient Chinese civilizations? What message do they have for us?
The beginning of Chinese Cities
The discovery of pottery, agriculture and the wheel encouraged people to settle on the shores of the Yellow River about 5000 years ago. Chinese cities, like Anyang, rapidly flourished.
The ancient Chinese civilization led to the birth of two brilliant thinkers in the sixth century BC – Confucius and Lao-Tzu. Their philosophies became the cornerstone of Chinese culture for over two thousand years.
And I think their philosophies have some relevance to making cities for people in the twenty first century. Here’s why:
Confucius and Cities
- You can improve yourself
- Humanity is central
- Relationships matter
What do these have to do with making cities for people? A lot, I think.
First, like people, all cities can improve themselves by taking simple measures like building parks or using more renewable energy. Where you’re going matters more than where you’ve been.
Second, humanity is central to cities, just as it is central to Confucianism. What is a city for, if it is not for people?
Third, relationships matter. I learnt a lot from living in Sweden about how everything interconnects in a city. The success of developments like The Western Harbour, Malmo comes from linking waste to energy supply to transport – and finding solutions that help all these problems. The Swedish SymbioCity concept sums it up well.
The Way of the City
They say you cannot express The Way, but you can know the principles and you can follow them. Make sense?
I’m still a bit bewildered, I admit. But, when I look at making cities for people, I can see where Lao-Tzu is coming from. People try to express principles, like the Melbourne Principles for Sustainable Cities, but it’s hard. Deep down, though, we all know the kind of things that make good cities. For example here’s my list of what makes a good city for people.
The last word
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, said Lao-Tzu.
I wonder which cities will be next will be next to take that single step? What do you think?