Tim Maly has an interesting (and enviable) response to being insanely busy with non-blog stuff, in that he ends up posting more material than usual. (I know, right?) Granted they’re small idea-sketches and think-nuggets, but given that Maly can fit ten times the erudition into a few hundred words than I can squeeze into a whole week, well, I’m not complaining. Anyways, here he is thinking about the fluidity of city boundaries and identity:
The interesting thing about cities (not city-states) is that while they are clearly entities, they do not have borders. They bleed and blur around the edges. It’s very easy to come and go. It’s very easy to move there or to move away. In a political context where every now and then people like to trumpet post-national politics with a rise in urban power to match the drop in state power, this is very interesting. Once you have crossed the borders of the state (the ones that aren’t police states) you get free reign to come and go as you please from place to place; something that can have wonderful or disastrous consequences for the health of an urban environment and the people left behind.
In some ways this opens up a lot of exciting possibilities but in other ways it weakens civic engagement. Sometimes reforms are necessary and painful. A lot of the problems we’re facing are at a scale that’s larger than the city, but that if cities are the new seats of power that we must deal with tools at city-scale. If your opposition to a policy means you just move a county over to avoid it, policies are harder to enact. If you don’t want to pay taxes, you move to a bedroom community and rob the the infrastructure of life-giving dollars. But the problems don’t happen county by county. They happen all over.
This seems to me to be another failure of the nation-state model: circumstances vary too widely and too quickly for a centralised governance system to cope, and the variation is getting stronger and faster. I have a tendency to cheer-lead the decay of the nation-state (oh, really, you’d noticed?), but this is the dark underside of that process – there’s still a lot of issues that need sorting on a regional or global scale, and a general narrowing of focus to local issues will leave those problems out in the cold. And given the number – and weight! – of those problems, ignoring them even temporarily is not a very good idea.