Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

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

Chapler 1
FROM DUNEDIN TO MURMANSK

THE EARTH was first conquered by man, and then by man's most impressive creation, the city, the 7,000-year-old newcomer to the historical scene. This process was very slow at first, but as time went on accelerated.

As recently as four hundred years ago there were many large regions on this earth without even the semblance of a settlement -- North America north of Mexico, South America except among the Incas, and Australia. In our day one has to travel into the polar regions, into the vast deserts, or into the tropical forests of the Amazon Basin, if one wants to find great stretches of land without cities. Broiling heat and biting cold, malaria-infested swamps, and arid land do not prevent the building and expanding of cities.

Cities exist in the Cordilleras of South America and Mexico, where millions live at an altitude of up to 8,550 feet; there are metropolitan cities as high as 12,143 feet and mining towns even above 13,127 feet. In Cerro de Pasco in Peru, 14,111 feet above sea level, in a region of barren desert and thin, icy air, more than 20,000 Indians and mestizos are mining copper, gold, and silver. The high altitude that, in tropical countries, seems to offer refuge from the heat can be acutely uncomfortable above, say, 8,000 feet. In La Paz, the Bolivian capital 12,143 feet high up in the Cordillera, few Europeans can endure the rarefied atmosphere for any length of time -- if, indeed, their hearts and lungs have not already given out when they arrive.

But aside from the vast sand deserts and ice regions, the earth is now inhabited everywhere. Iceland, Lapland, Tibet, and Siberia offer no easier living conditions than the high Cordilleras, but human beings live there nevertheless. If they have reached a certain stage of civilization, or if civilization is imposed on them, or if, on the other hand, other cities need oil or copper, or an outpost for trade -- then people congregate in cities, be the air as humid and heavy as in a hothouse or almost too thin to breathe, whether scorching sun or icy storms oppose them.

Thirty thousand people live in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, 11,832 feet high, where temperatures of 40 degrees below zero are

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