What makes a great city?

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 2, 2006

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a city great.

The book, “In Ruins: A Journey through History, Art and Literature” by Christopher Woodward, starts out by discussing the fall of Rome.

Rome is no doubt one of the world’s great cities, and at the time of Christ, the Roman Empire controlled much of the world.

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I guess I’m not much of a historian, but I just always thought of the “fall of Rome” as a singular event, and caused mainly because of a decline in morals.

Then I found out, it actually took dozens of years for Rome to fall and it came about over many reasons – including being too greedy and spreading their resources too thin.


empire (and more specifically, the city), apparently went into years of decline at which time the Romans were attacked by many different armies – including the Germans and the Goths. But it took several years, even decades, before the Roman emperors were so weak that they couldn’t continue to hold things together.

This great world power – truly a progressive city in terms of culture, scientific advancements, art and literature – became a pile of rubble. For hundreds of years, its great buildings, including the Coliseum, housed its remaining homeless, impoverished citizens.

Statues and works of art were reduced to dust, and the Pope ordered many to be melted down to construct fountains and statues that still stand in Vatican City.

So, why this historic journey to the Roman Republic?

Well, in thinking about what makes a great city, one almost always has to consider Rome as an example. In its heyday, there was nothing that it could even be compared to, with the exception of the ancient Greek world.

Our great cities today have a lot of what Rome and Greece had to offer –

Advanced government

Great scientific and engineering feats and discoveries

Art, and facilities for allowing the public to view those works (including public art)

Musical venues, as well as symphonies and theater

Great educational systems (for everyone, not just the males as in the ancient world)

Access to information through entities such as universities, museums, archives and libraries. A city can’t be a great city if it doesn’t have a great library (fortunately for us, Selma does).

Public parks, plenty of green space and pedestrian-friendly walkways.

You may have your own ideas of what makes a city great.

Selma, home to a great community, has a history of being a great city.

There’s no reason why it can’t continue to be so, if we work together to make that happen (of course, without trying to conquer the world, leading to an inevitable “fall”).

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Times-Journal.