Not until long-range aircraft came into existence were we fully able to realize how desolate and barren our old earth still is. After hours of flying over oceans, forests, mountains, jungles, deserts, and icy wastes, we welcome the sight of a civilized area where human beings crowd together.
But for a long time great cities have been etching their traces even in the sparsely inhabited parts of the earth. Because Copenhagen and Los Angeles wanted the shortest possible route to each other, airfields were blasted out of Greenland's ice; because our cities need oil for their factories and their cars, pipelines now run across the Sahara Desert.
All roads lead to the city. Even though cities are mere islands in the countryside, they dominate the world. The fate of mankind is being decided in Moscow, London and Washington. The Polynesians drape themselves in printed cotton cloth from Manchester, while the Egyptian fellahin toil to deliver the cotton to the British textile manufacturers in Manchester.
Where, why, and when cities developed, how the rise and fall of entire tribes of people and of cultures were tied up with a city, what the cities in remote times and countries looked like, how people lived there, and what caused the cities to die--all this is as fascinating as any chapter in history.
But is there a history book that tells us where the first blocks of flats, boulevards, and horse-drawn omnibuses existed, and when the invention of glass windows made the building of cities in cold countries possible? That tells us what Nineveh was like before the wrath of its enemies destroyed the city in blood and fire? Or that tells us when Pataliputra flourished, or when Hangchow was the largest city on earth? Or why great international harbours like Visby and Bruges were reduced to provincial cities, or why the Roman empire had to break apart?
Such questions are not merely of historical interest. We learn something rather essential from the answers: how our own cities may eventually fare, what we must do today in order to give the city of tomorrow an agreeable countenance, and even more important, how we can prevent its destruction by enemies, be they a surplus of people or of automobiles. For the terrible word destruction is part of the history of cities from Jericho to Nagasaki.
It is high time that we should want to try to change this. Never before in history has such a large portion of mankind lived in such . . .