1. Dirk van der Ven
  2. Built Environment
  3. Tuesday, 07 April 2020
Hi there,

I'm writing a paper on the necessary transitions needed to turn our cities into sustainable and resilient human settlements and to stay within the Paris agreement of max 2 degrees global warming (compared to pre-industrial era). There are 5 mayor transitions needed, one of them is a general transition towards an innovation society. To understand the origin of innovations better I have written a short paragraph on whether large scale agriculture came first to be followed by cities, or that cities where there long before large scale agriculture came into existence. Please let me know what you think.

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Large scale food production and technological advance in agriculture needed for large scale food production started around 10.000 years ago. In almost all descriptions of the history of agriculture the author assumes that cities where founded after and as a result of agricultural advances and large-scale food production. The truth is the opposite, humans lived in cities before agriculture advanced into systems of large-scale food production. Two lines of thought to substantiate this claim.

First, why would anyone start large scale food production when there is not a large group of people to feed in the first place? It is true for modern times as it was in historic times that nothing is done without a reason. So, large scale food production must mean a large demand for food. Long distance transport of food was not yet possible, the necessary transportation technology was not yet available nor was it possible to keep food fresh over longer period of time. That means that the food that was produced in large quantities must have been for a large group of people in the close vicinity, indicating the existence of a large human settlement or a city.

The second argument why cities existed before large scale agriculture was available, is that more then one innovation was needed to make advances in agriculture for large scale production. First forms of agriculture were completely manual labor. The ground was ploughed by hand, crops where sown and yielded by hand, water systems where dough by hand, everything was done by hand. To scale production up to feed larges groups of people required a faster means of working the land. Humans already kept animals for milk and meat, but now started to look at the animals to do the hard work for humans too. The invention of the ox plough was the break-through technology.

The ox plough is actually a smart combination of a few innovations. The first is the plough itself. Here sophisticated woodworking and stone parts and later parts for the share (the part that cuts through the soil) where combined in one piece of equipment. And most importantly the development of the yoke, which is a wooden beam that rest upon the shoulders of an ox so that the animal can pull the plough. The yoke is a very advanced piece of technology, because it requires pressure to be divided over the animal in such a way that it distributed the weight of pulling a plough into the legs of the animal and at the same time it need to be comfortable for the animal. All these tools, materials and technologies require different skill sets and specialized workers to make them. This wide diversity of high skills can only be found in high density human settlements or cities. Again, cities had to be there first in order to come with innovations like the ox plough before large scale and advanced agriculture was possible.

The point that is being made here is that innovations come from cities. Innovations need cities for its density and diversity of high-skilled and specialized workers.

From the previous paragraph we can conclude that many sophisticated innovations are needed in food production and agriculture once again, but even more so are needed for cities to be able to grow in a sustainable way, finding solutions for the energy transition at the same time. Cities are in great need of innovations urgently.

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Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Hi Dirk van der Ven

An interesting read, thanks for sharing! Most inventions are the result of someone trying to solve a problem, so it makes sense to me that the first large scale agriculture would be a response to an increased demand for food.

I think the historical stuff is quite clear. However, when you make the link between the past and the present, it feels like an afterthought. I understand the connection you are trying to make, but I don't think you've explained it clearly enough. Also, most of this text is about the history. Then when you get to the present (the most important bit?), it becomes vague and lacking in detail. I would tend to trim down the history a bit and beef up the present.

Maybe also get rid of the phrase, "From the previous paragraph we can conclude". Instead, focus on making those conclusions more immediately obvious to the reader from what you have written.

I also noticed some small grammar mistakes, so it needs a proof read.

I hope the comments help :)
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Built Environment
  3. # 1
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
I agree with Alison's comments.

Also, I wonder whether the invention of money might have been a prerequisite for large scale agriculture? In a small community, you could work cooperatively or use barter. But if you are selling goods to a large number of people that you do not know, I'm guessing that you would need a currency of some kind?

Am just thinking out loud here. I have zero expertise in this area :)
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Built Environment
  3. # 2
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Hi Alison Chan,

Thank you for your constructive comments. I certainly will work on these points. I agree that this will improve the text. Although it is part of a larger paper (hence the references such as "previous paragraph";) it should also stand on it's own.

The paper is still under construction, before publishing it more widely I'll have a native English speaker check for spelling and grammar too.

Again thank you.

Dirk
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Built Environment
  3. # 3
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Hi Ben Bailey ,

Interesting thoughts. I haven't considered the role of currency yet. I just might do that and see how it relates to innovations and cities. Currencies might well be very relevant.

Keep thinking out loud!

Dirk
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Built Environment
  3. # 4
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