Over the last one hundred years, there has been an enormous shift in population. Most of us now live in cities. Even as the population boomed from 1B to 8B, the number of people living in smaller towns or the countryside fell.
I’ve seen this first hand in South Italy, where I’ve travelled to many smaller towns with a fraction of the population that they had 50 years ago. Beautiful towns on top of hillsides that have the capacity for 8,000 people have barely 2,000 who live there, most of them rather old.
Why is this?
Traditionally, the reasons for moving to a city were primarily due to career opportunities and general advancement in life. You could only go to university if you went to a major city or town, and all the exciting careers that paid well could only be found in major metropolitan areas.
But, with the advancement of the internet and remote work, for any knowledge workers and business owners, there has been a complete break between where work happens and where you have to live.
So, are there any other advantages to living in cities? Before we get into that, I’d like to point out a few clear disadvantages:
Typically, many cities are now overpopulated, as they have more people per square km than they were envisaged to have. This results in a significant amount of traffic and having to line up for essential services such as shopping — or even to have brunch.
The air quality can also suffer in congested city centres, as millions of idle vehicles pour their noxious gases into the air. Once you’re used to it, it feels normal. But go out into the countryside or by the sea, and suddenly you notice the difference in air quality. Even looking at certain cities from a distance, you can see the cloud of smog hovering above the centre.
The other significant disadvantage is that when many people gather in one place, they end up bidding up the price of everything in competition with each other. For the money you spend, the amount of house you get in a major metropolitan area can be a fraction of what you can get in smaller cities or in the countryside.
But, there are still advantages to city life: if you love the hustle and bustle and you need lots of people around you to motivate you, then it is the right place for you. If you need to physically work in a place because of the nature of your job, then you also have no choice.
Cities offer numerous cuisines and experiences, including museums, art shows, galleries, and theatres. However, I question how often the average person will go to these places and if this cannot be done as a visitor instead of a full-time habitant.
So urban life is a set of trade-offs, and each individual needs to decide which set of trade-offs are worth it for them.
I have had the opportunity to travel a significant amount of the world, and I think small towns have the right mix. Places with less than 500,000 citizens mean that you have all the necessary services for a convenient modern life, but without any of the downsides of an urban centre with 10M+ individuals crammed together. There is no traffic, the countryside is 10 minutes away, and there is little noise.