In their natural setting, stars and horizons serve to remind you of your context: you are on a giant rolling planet, suspended within an enormous galactic system. That is something that does not actually sit well with the implicit ideology of the city. Forget being on a planet. You are in London, a uniquely important place in a uniquely important time, a control tower from which to master destiny and the external elements. Indeed, in the city, horizons and stars are just the basis for kitsch inspirational quotes (‘look to the horizon, reach for the stars’), pasted on the cubicle walls of wannabe high-flying young urban professionals, representing abstract places you cannot really reach.
And herein lies a central tension in the modern global mega-city. It might be a dynamic hub of glamorous entertainment, high-stakes commerce and edgy artistic sophistication; but it is also an engine of alienation, distancing us from the reality of our context, the land where food is grown, the grounds from which fossil fuels and metals are dredged and the ecological systems that underpin it all. In the city you are divorced from that broader context and placed into a different one — an exciting one perhaps — but a disconnected one nevertheless.
The disturbing possibility therefore, is that urban elites — whether in London, Brussels, Tokyo, Mumbai or New York – wield the greatest political and cultural trendsetting power, and yet may retain the least knowledge of the actual basis of their own survival. Those who do understand such realities — such as copper mine workers in Peru, or oil workers in the Niger Delta – are politically marginalized, and frequently looked down upon as backward objects of pity or faces on charity aid brochures. Urbanization is not slowing down.