Selected Readings in Municipal Problems

Selected Readings in Municipal Problems

Selected Readings in Municipal Problems

Selected Readings in Municipal Problems

Excerpt

The city has played an important part in civilized life during the entire period of human history. It was the chief unit of early civilization. The ancient city-state was the standard-bearer of progress among the Phœnicians and the Greeks. It deserves study, if only for the purpose of indicating that most of what we nowadays call "current problems" of municipal government and administration are as old as the days of Pericles. The problems of a modern municipality are different in orientation, but not in essence, from those which Athens and Rome encountered prior to the dawn of the Christian era. The ancient world was a world of cities and towns; its civilization was molded by townsmen; its achievements were the work of those who lived in the cities and towns.

But the collapse of Roman power brought the hegemony of the citydweller to an end. During the Dark Ages the cities decayed, and in some cases entirely disappeared. With them went all that made for the progress of civilization. The study of municipal life in the early Middle Ages is important for the lesson that it teaches concerning the close relationship between urban life and cultural progress. What we call civilization is in truth a very fragile thing. It could scarcely have occurred to an intelligent Roman of the first Christian century that his mighty empire would be swept away, its armies disbanded, its commerce disappear, its roads and public works crumble into ruins, and its culture fade into oblivion. But that is what happened. The era from the sixth to the ninth century is a blank page in the history of municipal institutions. They were engulfed in medieval darkness.

Eventually there came a recrudescence of city life. With the growth of stronger central governments the towns (or what was left of them) obtained protection and began to revive. Trading cities in the Mediterranean region began to show signs of new prosperity. In the northwestern part of Europe, likewise, the free cities made headway. And with this came the renaissance in European culture. The intimate relation between urban growth and cultural progress has at no time . . .

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