‘Cities’ reveals common ground between ancient and modern urban life

URBAN LEGEND Tokyo (shown above) and other modern metropolises can trace their roots back some 6,000 years to Tell Brak, the oldest known city, located in what is now Syria.

Monica L. Smith
Viking, $30

Ancient Rome’s Monte Testaccio and modern Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market reveal a lot about the nature of cities. Monte Testaccio is a hill made of broken pottery in the middle of Rome. Around 2,000 years ago, people tossed empty wine and olive oil vessels onto what was then a garbage heap. Tokyo’s vast seafood emporium, also known as Toyosu Market, includes passageways where forklifts deposit and remove containers of every sea creature imaginable, as chefs and home cooks bid for the day’s catch.

These metropolitan destinations illustrate how mass production and consumption of goods — along with public markets, complex infrastructure and trash — have always characterized cities, archaeologist Monica Smith writes in Cities. She argues that cities provide work and leisure opportunities that, once invented around 6,000 years ago, people couldn’t do without. Trash was part of the deal, along with poverty and pollution…

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