Days of Advantage, Evenings of Past Glory
And it so came to pass, the glorious shine and gleaming wealth of cities now over taken by Nature, changes of climate, significant misfortune or a combination of all these. The remnants of its tangible structures stand testament to its rather amazing wealth now lying forgotten in quiet bays, shifting sands or hidden beneath over run flora. Reflect on Petra, Angkor Wat or Macchu Picchu.
What could have been, what were most prominent in the rise of such famous ports, hubs of civilisation and ancient towns? Would the course of history have been averted, would it still have remained today? I speculate on five critical factors as to how empires, great city states and remarkable cultures rose and fell - or continued to be.
The utilisation of natural or man made advantages.
Even if you sit on a pile of gold, it very much depends on what you do with the glitter that matters.
Several nations located especially around Equatorial regions are observed not to make the most of their naturally endowed minerals, resources and Nature given benefits, to the extent that only a select group of individuals control the subsequent wealth whilst the majority of its population remain in squalid economic misery. There are always outside parties with the technology, talk and power to take on a country's resources in the name of adding value, making huge middleman profits and exerting undue influence even if they are foreigners.
In contrast, there are states who recognise advantages in another form - logistics, governance and know-how - and make use of such factors to survive and prosper despite the odds. Perhaps it is better to have non-natural advantages and be able to hold on to them longer. Advantages can be seen as on shifting sands, for what was once valued can be discarded later, what was once taken for granted can surface as rare and two major factors - politics and technology - can make innovative nations or city states always worried and planning proactively for their future.
The creation of advantages when originally there was little or none.
We have witnessed or read about nations, even at the pinnacle of their wealth, which did not plan for their viable future or just simply sank into a debilitating comfort zone that sowed the seeds of their doom. It does not necessarily mean that regions or nations with sizeable amounts of natural resources would be ahead in the continuing competitive game of attaining a good standard of living.
City states are perhaps best illustrations of encouraging innovation and creating advantage when there are seemingly none. To create an advantage when competitors see none is first to always make a difference. If you are sited in a region that seems to thrive on instability, you offer the opposite - reliability and dependency of an educational, family and financial refuge. When other nations reject diversity, you open your doors in generosity but receive the vibrancy of other cultures in personal intelligence, cuisine and culture. When others are willing to endure pollution in the name of development, you create your uniqueness in clean air, agriculture and water.
The United States of America was formed by communities that fled the rising religious intolerance in old Europe. From this inherent basis came a new emphasis of individual freedoms that are enshrined in the US Constitution - and this then arose the advantage that America offered like a shining beacon to emigrants from a troubled world.
The mindset of community and political culture.
There is a past that constrains, liberates or maintains a pervasive set of values, drivers and impetus to the vibrancy of any country or culture. At times, clinging on to original political philosophy without adapting to changing times can be a formula for failure as well. Royalty may have worked well in feudal times, communism may have been an answer to the excesses for the Industrial Revolution and native independence may have been the answer to long periods of colonisation. What now for going forward, to find an optimal governing structure that best responds in an age of instant gratification, fast technology, greater personal freedoms and social media?
The rise and fall of human leadership.
It may be the nature of challenging times that natural born and developed individuals step forward to make an impact on the thinking, running and outcomes achieved of a community.
History is evident with the power of one - with sufficient charisma, ensuing support and realistic outcomes, such individual leaders have toppled old orders, outdated thinking and ancient dynasties.
Such political leaders are often effective thinkers, good speakers and have this innate ability to induce others to act on their behalf. The 20th century saw many such greats, from Sun Yat Sen to Nelson Mandela. Any one of us have encountered the typical outcomes of a dynasty that started well but often finished up with a weak one. Was such downfall precipitated by a regime that lost its initial hunger, passion and innovation?
The timing of advantage to build for the future.
Human built societies go through detoxification, purging and renewal all the time. Periods of extreme deprivation are often followed by liberalisation but not is this always assured. At times it reflects the cycle between extremes, like the constant tension between the forces of conservatism and outward looking freedom when you reflect on the history of the world's major powers.
So changes in a city or country's course of development and path in history are inevitable. Just like investor-speculators always on the prowl to make a killing on the share, options or property markets, timing is of utmost importance. You may have an obvious advantage but you may too late to arrive at the party at its height. In the period of European colonisation, countries that came too late to opportunity found that there was a limit to lands that could be exploited for its riches. When Europe itself went through the dark ages, there was a flourishing of Islamic art, astronomy and sciences around the Mediterranean region. When political correctness had not yet taken its hold, many acts of exploitation, atrocity and subjugation by various powers took place without battering an eyelid.
The Spanish conquistadors arrived in the so-called New World at a time when the empires of the Incas and Mayan had passed their peak and was in inherent trouble themselves. The Mongol Empire, perhaps the biggest in world events, was dependent on the abilities of the horse, in an age when there was no better technical and effective weapon as this animal. The Polynesians expanded their influence in the Pacific in relative isolation from the rest of the world.
On a more positive angle, increasing incomes meant more participation in air travel, rising demands for higher education and better health care, more activity in investment possibilities and the multiplier effect of economic growth. How many cities can you think of are currently well placed to take advantage in such spheres?