We are undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history.
According to the United Nations Population Fund more than half of the world’s population now lives in towns and cities, and by 2030 this number will swell to about 5 billion. And much of the future urbanisation will unfold in Africa and Asia, bringing huge social, economic and environmental transformations.
It is a fact that life has been saturated in urban areas ever since Ancient Times, with urbanisation beginning in ancient Mesopotamia in the 4000-3000 BC and spearing to Ancient Egypt and Greece. And while the cities have been the places to provide prosperity, entertainment and comfort, nearly all ancient urban societies had to sooner or later pay the costs of urbanisation – the destruction of the very resources which gave rise to the area, and experience the trend of urban areas, where a cycle of rise is followed by a fall.
And while the oldest city in the world is Damascus, the capital of Syria, with evidence of habitation dating back to 9000 BC, the etymology of our term urban is to be traced back to Latin.
The Classical Latin adjective urbānus (deriving from the noun urbs ‘city’) had the general meaning of ‘belonging to, or connected with the city’, and especially referred to the lifestyle in ancient Rome, La citta eterna – the eternal city, regarded as one of the birthplaces of the Western civilization.
The adjective firstly entered the French language circa 1355, in a translation of History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita) – a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, written in Latin, between 27 and 9 BC, by the Roman historian Titus Livius.
And when in 1533, the Scottish writer John Bellenden translated the first 5 books of Livy’s History, he recorded the adjective urbane into the English vocabulary.
The common spelling, urban, along with the meaning of distinguishing the characteristics of a town or a city as opposed to the countryside, is first recorded in A Theatre of Scottish Worthies, a series of short poems about the Scottish kings, by Alexander Gardyne, circa 1620s: “Urban and tunishe turns, Or for the land’s affairs,..his with Him fit for all declares”.
The meaning of establishing authority or jurisdiction over a town or city is first recorded in 1651, in James Howell S.P.Q.V.: A survey of the signorie of Venice: “All Magistrates are either Urban or Forren, viz. of Town or Country. “
Nowadays, the adjective urban is most often attributed to the urban population and its lifestyle, yet the term has a number of other special uses, with one of the most interesting ones referring to the Afro-American youth in terms of style and characteristics, and in particular to the variety of genres of popular dance music, chiefly associated with black performers and frequently reflecting inner-city social themes. The term urban contemporary was firstly used by The Billboard magazine in 1980: “Urban contemporary comes from inner city listeners… “