Urban thinking and epidemiology

During the Napoleonic era a great man who pioneered sociology, statistics, epidemiology and gave us perhaps the clearest glimpse into urbanization, was Louis-René Villermé (10 March 1782 – 16 November 1863). I consider him the earliest known man who studied economics, sociology and did research and established statistics that became the base, for many of French reforms for how people lived and worked.  He advocated against child labor when their nimble fingers were busy working the tools, of the first Industrial revolution. We have much to thank him for his studies of industrial workers, prisoners and he established the earliest linkages between hygiene and health, and between poverty and their poor growth, and their early death.

In his great French book “Study of the Physical Condition of Cotton, Wool and Silk workers” a most comprehensive current state of the working people and their moral and physical life, is indeed a gift to our history. With the rapid urbanization that has taken place from the eighteenth to the twenty first century, the evolution of our cities and their populations is truly remarkable. So much we take for granted like safe drinking water, modern sewage systems, hygienic working conditions, reasonable work\life balance, were all unknown in Villerme’s times. He was a modern man and liberal who showed the path for better urbanization, to improve our human condition.

Previous changes took centuries to evolve as we have seen, but in the modern world change is going to arrive faster. Machines are now evolving at a very fast phase to take over the routine drudgery, of modern manufacturing and information flows. More robots and bots are doing increasingly more sophisticated work repeatedly and endlessly, without getting tired, or exhibiting any human error. We have evolved to become masters of a rapidly changing universe. Every day new cures are found or are being actively worked on, for old diseases and human conditions. We have achieved a level of health and happiness in our modern society, with the base needs of food, shelter and security being largely taken care of.

We owe so much to the great thinker who have come before us. The prime example is of Villermé who covered a wide array of subject matter including: children in the workplace, savings accounts, asylum rooms, and drunkenness among the working class. The work was unique in combining health topics with research and social reforms. We have come a long way since that pioneering work but now the need is even greater.

We have to prepare before the next devastating pandemic overtakes us. We have to continually improve our living and working conditions for the billions, who inhabit our earth. We are all of us, in this together, and to ignore development for some, and to allow only the few to enjoy the fruits of what we have achieved, is meaningless in a flat and seamless world. Our path is to Go forward from here. Striving for global happiness through rightful living, should remain our only goal.

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