Western ideas about good cities descend from Athens, Jerusalem and Rome. From Athens we inherit two seminal ideas: that the good life is the life of moral and intellectual excellence, and that the good city is one that makes this good life possible for its citizens. From Jerusalem comes a third idea: that a city’s excellence is also measured by the care it exhibits for its weakest members. And from Rome we inherit the idea that a city’s beauty is warranted by and represents its greatness. This ancient view of cities, though it acknowledged the central role of commerce, was essentially moral and aesthetic.
Today’s common wisdom is different. It views the city as governed by impersonal market forces, and devotes little thought to the good life or to the relation cities might have to the good life.