On this fifteenth anniversary of both the infamy and redress of New York’s 9/11 World Trade Center attack, I look around the world at the many days we set aside as celebrations and I am struck by a major omission.
We celebrate the planet with Earth Day. Most nations celebrate a Nation Day – Independence Day, Canada Day, Queen’s Day, Bastille Day, etc. We celebrate causes such as Pride Day or recognize health awareness like Heart Month. We have Festival Days that vary with the geography and the season – Berry Festival, Ice Festival, Festival of Lights. We have drama festivals, sports festivals and ethnic celebrations like Diwali, Christmas, Passover. We have parades for Saints Day, Santa Claus and Carnaval, We have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and some places even have Family Day.
But in a planet of cities why don’t we have City Day for our individual cities??
Why Don’t We Celebrate the City?
When I look around the world the closest I can come to identifying a City Day, is ironically the I Love NY buttons and themes. Many cities adapted these buttons to say I Love [city] to fulfil what I am coming to suspect is a deep longing and even a need.
And for many who consider New York to be the archetype of all modern cities, on this September 11, fifteenth anniversary of the greatest assault on NYC as a symbol for man’s accomplishments in creating cities, perhaps it is more than fitting that I Love NY be remembered, and honoured for our relationship to all cities??
The many celebrations I have charted above arise from the evolutionary path of our species. We have matured through the social structures of family, clan, state, nation, regional federation and global United Nations. We are stumbling as we attempt to make the global scale of our systemic structures align into some vestige of coherence. It is enormously difficult because the levels of culture and consciousness vary so much from one part of the world to another. This impedes effective inter-nation governance[i]and impacts both global and local economics[ii]. So it is not surprising that not everyone signs declarations, when we attempt to attract celebrants to support global theme days such as Earth Day or Water Day. Seemingly innocuous pro-sustainability celebrations such as these are challenged by belief systems that are not yet ready to recognize celebrations that span the globe, supporting survival of all life, including human life.
I wonder if we need to step back and ask ourselves if we could build support for world-centric causes more effectively, by finding ways to celebrate our cities and their eco-regions?
While more than 50% of humanity lives in cities now, probably close to 95% of humanity lives in urban settlements of some kind (from hamlets to villages, to towns) [iii]. Thus we have a shared experience of living most of our lives in social systems where most of our actions, thoughts, relationships and productivity take place. But, isn’t it strange that we haven’t been inspired to recognize, admire and celebrate the city that contains so much life?
My family gave me a small poster one Mother’s day many years ago – it says “Why is it that we only notice you when you aren’t here?” What would happen if our cities stopped functioning? How would that impact our lives?
The answer to that question is disturbingly easy to find. We have been able to view it on CNN every time a natural (and/or human made) disaster has struck and disabled a city – be it Tokyo, Los Angeles, Port au Prince, Sendai, Christchurch, New York, New Orleans or Chernobyl. We are less attentive when the slow and painful economic attritions eat the guts of cities from the inside out – such as happened in Glasgow at the beginning of the 20th century or Detroit at the end. And we often don’t want to know when cities are attacked by microscopic biologies (like Toronto with SARS or Hong Kong with avian flu). But we start to get quite nervous when the explosions of tribal warfare erupt in what we thought were stable city cultures – like Moscow, Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Orlando, Nice, Aleppo or Delhi.
The truth is that our cities are now repositories of so much wealth and complexity that they are precious and vulnerable living systems, whose existence deserves to be celebrated.
For cities are not just artefacts of human ingenuity, but they are social holons – whole systems including and embracing a holarchy of human systems from the individual to the family, groups, teams, organizations, neighbourhoods, institutions, work places, sectors and all the interconnective systems that enable the holarchy to function as a city.
Our Cities Deserve a Celebration
So why don’t we celebrate the city? She deserves a celebration just as every belief tradition celebrates the individual through birthdays, name days, graduation days, etc. Celebrating the city would give us the satisfaction of recognizing for one day a year, the city (and her eco-region) that supports our very existence and survival. For the city is the human being (and human becoming) writ large. She has all the body, brain, mind, heart and soul that humans possess. And if for no other reason we should celebrate that we have co-created a system that lives, works, plays and recreates in reflection of who we are as a species as we have created our Human Hives.
[i] The governance variances have been well charted by Thomas Barnett (Barnett, 2005) who pointed out that the world had emerged into the countries of a “functioning core” who are connected and those that exist in a non-integrated “gap” where their connections are blocked, technologically behind and/or blind (lacking infrastructure for IT, communications and social media).
[ii] The economics variances have been effectively enumerated by Thomas Friedman(Friedman, 1999, 2005) who argues that countries who trade together are unlikely to war together, and that as trans-global economics become more interconnected vested interests become entangled. This has become painfully obvious from the 2008 US Prime Mortgage financial outfalls and the current EU financial imbroglio.
[iii] 95% figure suggested by Richard Register in interview for the Integral City eLaboratory, 2012