Analyzing cities in 1588

A newly translated into English work from an Italian observer in 1588 provides a perspective on cities:

His book called On the Causes of the Greatness and Magnificence of Cities, written in 1588, has just been translated into English for the first time in four centuries and published by the University of Toronto Press.

Funny how modern it is, once you get past the obligatory nod toward the ancients and Botero starts talking about the world he actually knows. This stretched from cities built by the Incas (he admired their engineering) to the Indian island of Goa, a vigorous trading partner of the Portuguese.

Botero doesn’t care much about fortresses and armies; he looks for trade, transportation routes, a middle class, contact with foreign states, universities, and growth, as well an an effective ruler. Not so different from our day…

Botero writes: “Someone will ask me which is of greater value for improving a place and increasing its population: the fertility of its soil, or the industry of its people?” That’s easy, he says. Industry wins over farming or other production of raw materials every time.

This article suggests Botero seems to have a more modern perspective on cities and has been called the first urban sociologist. Having never encountered his work before, I wonder if we could flip this around: perhaps Botero was living at the leading edge of the modern era in northern Italy in the late 16th century. The Italian Renaissance had already occurred. This would be around the same era in which Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism suggested modern capitalism developed. Cities were connected more than ever before and Europeans now had information about cities in the Americas and Asia. It still takes someone to notice and point out these changes but the world and big cities were changing by this point in time.

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