An Introduction: The Complexity of Cities

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Allow me, for a moment, to take the role of a philosophy professor and ask a confoundingly difficult, yet simple-seeming question: what is a city?

Everyone has some conception of what a city is—from the rural farmer who has never left her home county, to the cosmopolitan world traveler who hops from place to place each and every day; and from residents of the world's most technologically advanced countries to those who make their homes in the furthest reaches of the developing world. In each of us, the word "city" itself conjures strong but wildly divergent images. Many visions can be embodied in it: skyscrapers and apartment houses as well as smoke belching factories and dirty hovels; the most complex corporations and cultural institutions along with small social circles of but a few friends; dark political machines and peaceful communes. All of these images, and everything else not only in-between but encompassing an almost infinite number of concepts, structures, and visions, are encompassed in the word city. Common intuition leads us to believe that we are all referring to the same concept or concepts, but at times the sheer diversity of experience and insight can make us question even such a basic assumption. To say the very least, attempting to unify these different views into a coherent definition and understanding is hardly a trivial task.

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