by Steve Lancaster 2/25/17
The streets are crowded with immigrants who live in tenements with entire families in one room. There is no fresh water to drink or bathe and garbage, feces and urine are dumped into a street already filthy from the waste of animals. Disease is endemic in the poorer areas, with typhus, smallpox and measles killing thousands annually. To travel the street is to experience a powerful smell of the waste of thousands of people and animals, mixed with the ever-present smell of smoke from thousands of fires cooking food. Political leaders have established a dole to citizens ensuring that a basic minimum will allow them to starve slowly, but without the boorish rioting and looting food riots engender.
Fire is a constant danger and some areas have organized volunteer fire brigades, which charge the owner to extinguish a fire. Crime is widespread with gangs in every area extorting the merchants for protection money and engaged in all sorts of criminal activity. Gangs have more direct impact on the lives of the average citizen than government. In fact, they serve as a quasi-government mediating disputes and effecting judgement and punishment. Prostitution is open and unregulated, except by the gangs. The brothels are everywhere with some prostitutes plying their trade in dark corners of the street. Everyone drinks and taverns are as numerous as brothels, most doing double duty.
Those who have made some money move away from the hoi polloi into communities with walls, gates and guards. The wealthy owners rarely see their business directly, leaving their administration to managers. Yet, people continue to move to the city from the latifundia by the turn of the century the population of Rome will exceed one million. Fresh water will be brought into Rome by a series of aqueducts. Public works changing the course of the Tiber will control flooding and sewers will take waste away, although the river will become polluted the streets of Rome will be cleaner in the 3rd century CE than in the 1st century BCE. London will be the first Western city to reach this population but until the early 19th century.
However, this is as good as it gets for 1700 years. If we were to take Marcus Tuillius Cicero out of 55 BCE and drop him into New York in the 1840s he would see that city life had not changed. Over the next 100 years the paradigm of the past is changed in a dramatic fashion. Not only do the institutions of civilization adapt to the challenges but the technology to effect the changes is developed and utilized, more in America than Europe, but both cultures making the modern city more, safe, healthy and crime free than ever in human history.
Today, some of our cities have fallen back into the morass of the 19th century. It is not that we lack the technology to solve the problems of Detroit, Chicago or Oakland. What is lacking is the political will to do so. For selfish political power, democratically elected leaders have chosen to encourage a culture of exploitation, servitude and crime. Capitalism can and does solve these problems, but without the political will to do so these cities and many like them will continue to sink back into the squalidness of ancient Rome, but everyone will have a flat screen TV and an IPhone.