It is relatively common to give the key to the city to a remarkable citizen or visitor. It is also completely symbolic as there is no keyhole to the city. The idea dates back to when cities were surrounded by walls and only had a few gates as access points. The gesture is now relatively boring. However, as the world population moves largely to cities it is interesting to ask oneself, what is the key to the city, figuratively. What makes a city?


The idea of a city is not as old as one might think. As it is a fixed geographical area, men had to leave their nomadic culture and settle down in groups. Moreover, a city is larger than a village or a settlement. There is no exact threshold between the different stages of agglomerations, from village to metropolis. A city requires a semblance of structure and division. A city in early times required multiple people and probably coincided with the appearance of specialists as these professions would not be able to survive without a city's surrounding ecosystem. Rapidly the agglomerations grew walls and rules regarding the land within the borders of the city. Governments were formed to make sure the city would remain in order and develop. They were rather dirty and unhealthy places to live in. The cities started developing into large agglomerations once they became not only healthier but when the economy could provide for all these people. Problems that had always been there became a lot more apparent and crucial, such as transport and urban planning.

Cities are like magnets. Once they are established they attract hundreds of people. They build up to and become a centralised large and varied audience. They are a relatively good representation of the demographics of the surrounding land or country. The very concentration element makes cities the ideal centre of power. Capitals are cities, they host governments and this attracts people and an economy closer to the centre of power. The accessibility of a wide range of people with just as many skills and influence, make cities ideal. As societies slowly distanced themselves from a primary economy towards a tertiary economy, cities boomed. Cities have always been a component of power from Athens, to the Italian city-states, to modern day warfare when taking cities is an essential part to military success.


Most people will have different definitions of the term. A common denominator will of be the large concentration of people in an area, but that alone does not make a city. There are so many aspects to it, from street planning, to central buildings or forums. That is without mentioning any of the intangible characteristics to the agglomeration such as culture, customs, even the inhabitants' attitudes. Whilst people have a tendency to separate all the elements and aspects of a city into various expert areas, they all tie into each other and that is in essence one of the key aspects of the city. Everything is linked, a city is a knot. A knot in constant movement.




One can argue that cities are a purely human phenomenon, yet it can be found in nature, a prime example is ants. Ant colonies have are quite complex and well organised, but they do not have much of the intangible elements of human cities. Yet much like ant colonies human cities cannot be built in a day. Indeed, Brasília was built in 41 months according to a very structured plan. Each area was dedicated to a sector in advance. While it makes sense to pre-plan a city it ignores the ideas of culture and tradition that make the spirit of a city. Brasília has been under much debate for this.


Multiple questions surround the city of the future. Will the model still be relevant? We can see megalopolises emerge, as cities expand and feed directly into each other. Examples can be found around the world, from Germany to Japan. As urbanisation continues cities will grow wider and finally merge into larger ecosystems.


Cities are the prime example how people from very different backgrounds with a wide set of ideas and skills can live together and share a limited space. As internationalisation of people and cultures grows, we might one day see a world city. What could be a lot more than just a massive agglomeration of people, will have to grow by itself within a partially planned structure in order to create all of the intangibles. This might, in time, become the key to the emergence of a world nation.