This article views cities based on urban theories from the perspective of Spiro Kostof, a Turkish American architectural historian, and Lewis Mumford, an American public intellectual architect. They both started from questioning “What is a city?” and “What makes a city as it is?” and “Why people more likely to live in what is so called a city?”
Reflecting On The City of Basra? Is It A City Or Not? Why?
My hometown is Basra (aka Basrah), a city in the south of Iraq, which is a very strategic location. Geographically, the city harbors a
hydrologic connector between Tigris and Euphrates at the point where they forge into Shuttil Arab, a major river in Basra city center, before it pours into the Arabian Gulf. This important transition facilitated an internal and external transportation route in the past for trade, travel, and recreation. Therefore, this natural element was the seed for a city to grow, and consequently building other elements that helped it to grow faster.
Water, as we know, is the main reason for life everywhere on earth, likewise in Basrah. As mentioned, rivers in Iraq used to be a public transportation and trading route; also, being on the gulf offered an exterior point to connect with the world where ships came from as far as India. Having all of these elements meet in Basrah allowed it to become a transportation hub and standoff station, a strong reason to establish a city “Cities are places favored by a source of income – trade,” Spiro Kostof.
The other fact is that most of Iraq soil is fertile and has a rich capacity to grow a vast range of crops, and most of it depend on these rivers to grow, which was a great reason for agriculture. While there were large variety of fruits, vegetables, and feed that were produced, the main fruit that Basrah thrived in its production / trade and well-known for is dates. People used to see the dark green jungles of palm trees for its density, records showed there were about thirteen million palm tree in 1977 just in Basrah, with around 400 species of dates. Therefore, “Cities are places favored by a source of income – intensive agriculture and the possibility of surplus food,” Kostof.
These two main factors facilitated the third one, “Cities are places where a certain energized crowding of people take place.” Kostof. Basrah since then was the third big city in Iraq, after Baghdad and Mosul, and the 13th in the Arab Country in 2007 with a population of 1.75 million people. This number is very large regarding Basrah’s relatively small urban area, 75 square miles, about 23,730 people per sq mile.
All above elements have influenced the cultural life. There is a geographic location that prepared a transcultural environment with many distinct accent affected by its geographic location and its closeness to other tribes / cities like Nasiriyah, Kuwait, Khorramshahr, etc. Back in the days, when the city was less populated, people used to know each other on a family level, meaning that they had stronger community relationships that helped in raising children, mutual cooperation, and crime control, which allowed it to be a “social institution” as Lewis Mumford described it. That made people to help and support each other which is very necessary to build a safe, educated, and good community, and eventually good cities.