City celebrations

What is a city? What differentiates a city from a town, or a town from a village? I used to think London was enormous until I visited Delhi; and I used to think Manchester was huge before I moved to London. What, then, defines a city? And what makes a city great? Could it be it’s population? It’s architecture? It’s culture? To be honest I find such questions fascinating; it’s part of the reason I love to travel. Every city across the world is unique; each has it’s own character. I daresay this may have been what the great Walter Benjamin was getting at, at least in part.

What, then, defines a city, and what makes a city great? What makes a city stand out to the world? Think Paris, London, New York. Everyone knows about such cities, even if they have never visited them. What is it about these places which makes them such world cultural centres? I have been thinking about this quite a lot recently, and I think we need to celebrate such things more. Every city is unique and astonishing; we need as a community to celebrate that. The olympics pull the world’s focus onto one specific city through sport every four years; perhaps something similar can be done through culture. Of course, a city can be great without ever hosting the Olympic games – New York being an obvious example – but why can’t we let the world explore itself, one city at a time? Each metropolis could show itself off to the world through an artistic and cultural festival, televised across the planet. Perhaps then we would all see how similar we are, as well as how wonderfully diverse.

Every city could put on shows and events; there could be opening and closing ceremonies. Such events could function as a type of joint world exploration, with audiences brought into each city and shown what it contributes to the world culturally. They could happen every four years or so (probably not the same year as the olympics, though). The olympics is fine, but whereas it focusses on running and jumping and stuff, I reckon we need to establish an artistic equivalent alongside it, just as big, but dedicated to a city’s creative side. After all, art holds just as much cultural value as sport, if not even more. Such an event would also have the advantage of requiring less custom-built infrastructure, as most cities, especially larger ones, will already have theatres and cinemas in place.

Yet such events shouldn’t be just confined to the big metropolises. Cities like London and Tokyo get to host the olympics because they’re rich. This cultural olympiad, or whatever it will be called, will probably be much cheaper to put on, meaning places which might not be quite as wealthy could participate. Imagine how fascinating it would be to celebrate the culture of a city like Delhi or Cairo or Havana.

Of course, this is just another of my crazy ideas: how such an event would work practically would be anyone’s guess. Would people watch it without the thrill of competition? Would cities want to participate?  If other countries are to send delegations, as they do in the Olympic games, what would they contribute? Yet surely the idea of bringing everyone together and drawing the world’s focus onto a city in order to explore and celebrate it’s culture is a cool one.

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