Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
JOINING THE CROWDS

WHAT IS it that lures them all -- the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the poor and the rich -- into the cities?

It is by no means only the "alluring" cities that have this magic attraction. The population of Cairo doubled during the last twelve years, while available living quarters rose only by 15 per cent; it is obvious what this means in terms of desolation and misery. Most of those Italians who have moved from the poorer parts of their country to Rome now live in horrible barracks, in caves, and in sheet-metal shacks, in even more wretched and squalid conditions than they endured in their villages. And yet, in 1959 some 270,000 Italian peasants abandoned their fields.

In 1947, when India was partitioned, millions of Hindus fled from Mohammedan East Pakistan to Calcutta, and most of them remained there, unemployed and in a state of misery which our worst nightmares cannot match. The government has made repeated attempts to resettle these homeless refugees in various parts of the country; but most of them walk all the way back to Calcutta, where they sleep in the mire of the gutters, covered with flies, and where they resume their daily fight for a place to sit in the shade of the overhanging roofs of the railway platforms.

But we do not have to go that far; in Central Europe too, we can still find many neglected and filthy rear courts which make one wonder whether the people living there would not be much better off even in the poorest villages. At one time millions of people pushed and thronged into the smoke-beclouded Ruhr City, and now they are settled there amidst trash piles, railway tracks, chimneys, soot-blackened factories and smelting works. And the stranger searches in vain for some slight alleviation of this wretched scene.

Why then do all these people surge into the cities, even into the darkest, most unattractive ones, into miserable and apparently unbearable ones?

Industrialization was only one of the decisive factors. The growth of the factories during the nineteenth century brought new opportunities to landless farmers who previously had only the choice between the precarious existence of a hired hand and the uncertain fortune of emigration to the New World. Since 1875 the population

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