Might cities today be functioning in similar ways, as drivers of bold new political ideals and practices uniquely suited to the 21st century? Do cities hold the key to our democratic future? Senator Scott Ludlam thinks so.
A definite cut above most other politicians down under, Ludlam has city life and urban thinking hard-wired into his political genes. He's highly knowledgeable on the subject. Politically wise for his young age (he's 43) and now campaigning for re-election in Western Australia, he tells me during our recent breakfast in Sydney that cities are becoming political laboratories.
'Much has been said and written about sustainable cities in recent times', he says. 'There's a wild flowering of creative theory and practice going on.' We're now on the cusp of an urban tipping point. 'The future is here', he adds, borrowing words from William Gibson. 'It's just not widely distributed yet.'
Scott Ludlam's no utopian; he's better described as an imaginative realist. That senatorial quality radiates across the table as we talk through the upsides and downsides of present-day city living. We begin with the grim.