The Oxford English dictionary defines a city as a large town. There is no indication what the word large means, in physical area or people. However, it is clear that the fundamental definition of a city is the same as the fundamental definition of a town. The same Oxford English dictionary describes a town as having several characteristics. Firstly, it has boundaries. That is its edges are defined in such a way that there is always an inside of the town or city and an outside of the town or city. This is very important, because part of the reason for human settlement has always been the defense of the community within the settlement. Secondly, the town has some form of local government administration. That is, those who make the town their home have ways of determining for themselves strategies for the welfare of the town. Albeit only at the level of the town.
In another definition, Oxford defines an area within the city or town in which major commerce takes place as the downtown.
These then are the four basic features of a city or town. It is a settlement of people bound together in a specified area with proscribed edges, with some form of local administration and an area set aside for major commercial activity.
What then can be said of the requirements for the successful development of the city, purely from this definition? Firstly, it can be said that the purpose of the city is to satisfy the needs of those who have chosen to make the city their home. Those needs begin with what are called their basic human needs. Maslow suggests that human needs are hierarchical. At the lowest end of that scale, the need that must be satisfied first, is pure survival- homeostatic needs. How do I get food and shelter so that I can survive until tomorrow? The second need is to feel safe and secure within the settlement. The third need is to experience a sense of belonging, or community. The fourth is to be valued. That is, to feel as though your presence within the community is important. And finally, the fifth need is to experience self- actualization. That is to have the ability to achieve your intellectual and emotional potential and to achieve aesthetic satisfaction. These are the needs that all people in all forms of human settlement need to satisfy. The city or town is the vehicle for for such satisfaction, both through its physical configuration and through its social institutions. It is therefore crucially important that those responsible for the management of the city or the town understand that purpose and their responsibility and to provide the framework for the satisfaction of those needs. This is the purpose of government.
People must have food, water and shelter. How much food, how much water and how much shelter is up for discussion. But to the extent that their physiological survival may be threatened the city must address the availability of those items. People must feel safe. In old European, African and far eastern towns, huge walls and a secure gate provided that sense of safety and security. In the modern city or town, decent lighting, good communication and security forces provide a sense of security. Where those seem deficient, walled enclaves satisfy that need for smaller groups of citizens. The development of community hinges on the extent to which the values, habits, backgrounds and the likes of those seeking the sense of community are shared and celebrated. The city provides opportunities for historical display, the celebration of acts of heroism and outstanding accomplishments by its citizens and the sharing of cultural uniqueness as the glue that would bind community together. The social interaction generated by spiritual, social and other organizations provides emotional support for the development of the community. The celebration of individual accomplishment, the involvement of all members of the community in the decisionmaking process and the sensitivity to the opinions of all members fosters a sense of individual value. And finally, the city must provide a plethora of opportunities for self-actualization from formal schooling through the development of research and interest groups, and through the displeay and encouragement of aesthetic pleasure.
This, it seems, is the role and responsibility of the city. This is the model against which we believe the development of our cities should be measured.
At another level, Oxford defines a nation as a “large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory”. This body of people, while dispersed in different locations, while occupying many towns or cities share the same needs. The nation must provide the same five sets of requirements for the development of a national community. The nation must provide for physiological needs, a sense of safety and security, the institutions that provide community building agents, the development of individual value and even higher levels of self-actualization. When discussing nation building, these are the building blocks with which governments must work.
Clearly, in the Bahamas we have not addressed these issues as yet and as will be seen in the next post, the failure to address them has already resulted in the rampant dis-associative behavior which we call crime.

October 20,2014

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