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The first cities developed over five thousand years ago along the fertile Euphrates river in Mesopotamia. As settlements like Ur and Uruk rose in population and complexity, building, art and technology flourished. It seemed that wherever the lands could support a large concentration of people in a small area, exciting things happened—like writing. Cities still have their evils—crime, pollution and the high cost of living can be traced all the way back to the ancient world—along with their fascination. They also have their writers. It would be difficult to imagine a London not peopled with characters from Dickens, Conan Doyle or Wodehouse—or Paris without Hugo, New York without Wharton or Dorothy Parker, Chicago without Sandburg or St. Paul without Fitzgerald.
As communities blur together and the Internet creates new sorts of collectives, the identity of the city is changing. Is Minneapolis/St. Paul becoming just one more neighborhood in a single, World City? And as cities continue to increase in population, will the things that made them special—the buildings, the art, the beautiful parks, the breakthroughs in science and technology—be smothered by their sheer mass? Even as a publisher of a literary journal in the rather provincial Twin Cities, every week I run across “well known” local writers I’d never heard of before—like Anders Carlson-Wee, a poet who caused a bit of a tempest in a teapot over at The Nation recently. With so many poets, novelists, painters, film makers, bands, etc. etc., does great art get buried under six feet of pretty good art? At its height Uruk, where Gilgamesh was king, was the largest city on Earth. Its population? Between fifty and eighty thousand—about the size of modern-day Plymouth, MN.
But our train has pulled in—welcome to our City issue. Grab a park bench or a table at one of the thousands of cafes near you and dive in. We have fountains and fanatics, park statues, shiny doorknobs, drugs, ice skating, paint factories, dark rooms, happy hours, tragic and unnecessary shootings, and (despite all the people around) loneliness. So enjoy your stay here—just don’t expect me to know your name.
- Joel Van Valin