Friday, 20 January 2012

Unnatural Cities

Who decided that cities were unnatural? I mean, they are a product of the brains, needs and creativity of things that occur in nature, i.e. us. So what makes them intrinsically more unnatural than, say, a forest? Well, granted, they do take a bit more active work to create (although I’m sure creating forests is no picnic) but that work is done either by us naturally-occurring humans or creatures we have created, from chiefly organic parts. I am wondering where exactly the line is drawn. And who draws it? Take glass, its created by the application of heat to sand – at what point does that become unnatural? Sand is not unnatural and heat is not unnatural, so why does the combination warrant the term?
In a scene in Terry Pratchett’s Fifth Elephant, Sergeant Colon tells Vetinari that he ‘doesn’t hold with unnatural things’. Vetinari is genuinely perplexed and asked ‘so you eat your meat raw and sleep in a tree?’ This is precisely the point – when do things become unnatural? Who decides? Why do they need to decide? And more importantly, what if they change their minds? Do they then issue a bulletin to every city in the world? How would it read?
‘Dear Dublin,
We have called you unnatural for many years now. We have believed your population secretly wants to escape the gridlocked prison and spend the rest of their lives rearing chickens on a farm in Wicklow.
We apologise for this mis-representation. From now on, we will hold you in high esteem much as we do the country.
Sincerest apologies for any inconvenience caused.
The Board of Unnatural and Natural Liason.’
Bam, suddenly cities would be the most natural things in the world! And when you think about it, they are. Humans are naturally social creatures, so it surprising we choose to live together in one place and to share amenities? Personally, I am fed up with people telling me that some day I will wake up say ‘Argh, get me out of here’ and go haring back to the Wilds of Beyond. I spent seventeen years in the Wilds of Beyond and they are not all they are cracked up to be, believe me.
Unnatural or not, I’ll take the city over the muddy, wet and desolate countryside anyday!

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