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Cities of Today, Cities of Tomorrow

Unit 3: What is a City Made Of?
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“Cities, like dreams, are made of desire and fears...”
—Italo Calvino, Italian novelist

Cities often get a bad reputation for being chaotic, crowded places. We will see that cities have serious problems to cope with, but they are also very efficient places that provide services to thousands and sometimes millions of people.

No matter where you live, you need some essential things to survive: shelter (housing), food, and water. Life in a city requires more than that. Electricity for buildings and streets; a safe way of dealing with the garbage; transportation so that people can get from one place to another. Citizens also need schools so that they can get an education; places for recreation such as museums, sports arenas, concert halls and parks; shops so they can buy what they need, from clothing to food. These are "services" available in a city.

None of these appear by magic. They all need something to support them, just as the bricks or wood in your home need strong beams to keep them up. Electricity needs electric lines, water needs plumbing, cars and buses need roads, schools need buildings and so on. These are part of a city's "infrastructure".

It is a tremendous task for a city to provide the necessary infrastructure and services to its citizens. Some of this task is handled by city ("municipal") governments, some of it by private groups, such as businesses or neighborhood organizations. All of it, however, requires cooperation between the citizens and the government.

The advantage of a city is that it has a greater population density than rural areas, which means that many people are concentrated in a small space rather than being spread out over a large territory ("low population density"). This allows the government and others to provide more services to a larger number of people. One electricity line to a single neighborhood can serve hundreds or thousands of people. Of course, this requires highly complex planning and money, which is collected through taxes. Not all citizens have equal access to what their city offers. In some areas of every city there are people without homes, without electricity and without water.

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