Cities and Individual-Communal Life

Kentler ve Bireysel-Toplumsal Yaşam

“…An organized unity of a city population requires even more accurate allocation of time than what’s needed in a rural village.” (Gordon Childe, “Urban Revolution in Mesopotamia”)

Nearly half a century ago, %75-80 of the Turkish society were living in villages/rural areas. Today, however, this percentage is completely other way around. %75-80 of the Turkish society are now living in cities/urban areas. There are similar percentages and tendencies all around the world. As a significant portion of the population lives in cities, these cities are taking a special form that is of extreme significance to us. Because all of us are living in cities, we are not independent of them; on the contrary, we are fully depending on them.

Therefore, none of us can say “it’s not my concern” on an urban-related issue. Each and every one of us is a part of the living cities. We are breathing together, and even the smallest things regarding them directly affect our lives. They determine/change our daily life routines, along with our life standards. In this article, we will initially focus on the importance of cities in a nutshell. Then, we will discuss how our cities do/might affect our physical and mental health both on individual and communal bases.

Cities are virtually living organisms. They are similar to living creatures that change shells, take some other forms from time to time. Millions of people are living together in these collective structures that are industrialized, and thus becoming city-based. The most fundamental reason behind the change in the urban-rural ratio is the city-based communal industrial orders.

Humans are living as other organisms at the heart of the city. But how do these living creatures manage to breathe, which is their most essential requirement? Unfortunately, it is not possible to properly breathe in and out in the “concrete hormone-injected” cities that are overgrowing currently. Trachea is blocked, sources of oxygen are mercilessly consumed. As the cities are unable to breathe, individuals and society are unable to breathe either… In case of irregular breath, which is a precondition for the continuity of vitality, various problems occur in terms of individuals and society . Speaking of which, cities that provide humans with the opportunity to develop themselves physically and mentally are one of our most urgent needs. Each and every one of them is related to and in sequence with one another.

On the other hand, however, cities harbor many advantages compared to rural life. It would be absurd to make an urban-rural comparison on fields, such as education, health, transportation, culture, etc. Our world has changed, become faster and easier thanks to the new world having the cities at its heart. Cities offer us the “world”. All the same, it is hard to say that urban-based problems are on minimal level. It is possible to say that many health problems, although not directly associated with cities, are caused by the problems in the administration of the cities.

The most striking example is “breath” once again. It is impossible to think of increasing illnesses regardless of the substances we naturally breathe in every moment. Recently, it was the “World Cancer Day”. A competent surgeon was saying that the increase in cancer cases and the ways of living in big cities were directly proportional. The inference he made was focusing on the society-oriented reasons of the illnesses, such as cancer. It is hard not to believe that this emphasis is too important when one thinks about it. Nutrition, way of life, quality of the air we breathe in, traffic, urban waste… All of them are essential criteria for wellness.

But how are our cities doing on these issues? Do we have any cities that can get a “passing grade” when considered based on these criteria. How do the opportunities offered by our cities to us arrange environmental conditions that are important for health? Let’s make the answer open-ended.

Is it still possible to deny the urban stress-caused depressions? Would it be correct to consider the mental depressions in big cities only as individual cases? How many hours do we spend at traffic a day? Or in total a year? Isn’t the time we spent for transportation the time that is stolen from our lives? Is it reasonable to spend our time on the roads while it is already difficult to find time in cities?

Are our cities centers of peace and calmness? Or on the contrary, is it one of the main sources of our physical-mental problems? Cities are not the direct sources of the problems. Those who make the cities “living spaces” are the architects of the end products. If you give it, a city directly reflects it onto you. It is not a criminal, but innocent.

Who are these architects? For instance, those who have the right of citizenship in Ancient Greece (namely, “men who are not slaves”) had a say in the fate of the city as citizens living in the city at the same time. They were naturally administrators for the city.  The philosophers of the period made several suggestions regarding the method of administration of the city-states and population in the first place with regards to the issue of cities.

Today, however, the fundamental point lies beneath the fact that a human-based understanding of management should step forward, and not a profit-oriented urban management driven by the ambition to make profit. This is a precondition for both individuals and the collectivism crated by those individuals. Cities are the central point for “wellness”, too. One must remember again that the living creature called “human” is supposed to be at the center of the city.

In one of his poems, was İsmet Özel the poet emphasizing these limits while saying “may the urban people do what they are going to do”? Maybe. Nevertheless, this randomness is not an auspicious development for urbanites. Developing the cities as a living space for all would enlarge the life world of the urbanite. The pluralism of the process of designing it as a living space, instead of a source of profit, would turn the individuals into active subjects. An individual, who designs the space they live in, would see that they have a value. All cities are natural living spaces of those who live in them. All other intentions and purposes regarding the cities would narrow down the living spaces of the individuals, while depressing and boring them. As a consequence, it would cause various problems. It seems like it is useful not the forget that this is the main point.