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The Age Old Urban Quagmire

Really wanna get to know the urban critic? You'd better go back much further than Lewis Mumford. Try D. Iunius Iuvenalis of first-century ancient Rome. The folks at L.A.'s Getty Museum translated some of his poetic verse (serious and satirical in turns) to see what common feelings were held on city life. Even without megacity agglomerations, familiar and intractable problems reared their heads: high rents, shoddy construction, street hustling, noise pollution, unbearable rich snobs, and status-confirming material requirements. The only category of urban ill that doesn't quite carry over to present day was the discarding of pots, rubbish, and excrement from high floor windows. Modern plumbing and decency took care of much of that. It's startling how closely Iuvenalis' colorful accounts match up with today's tired gripes. But remember, we're talking seats of empires here. Just imagine life for those civilizations on the receiving end. [Getty Blog]