The basic premise of this blog is that cities and urbanism have been around for thousands of years, and that it is interesting and useful to take a broad perspective on these things. The "Wide Urban World" is the realm of cities from ancient Mesopotamia to the present. Consideration of premodern cities can provide insights into modern urban issues, and research on contemporary cities can help historians and archaeologists understand past cities. And consideration of both modern and past cities will allow us to understand the nature and variation of urbanism much more fully than a narrow focus on a single time period or place. Beyond this blog, my colleagues and I have made this point in a number of publications (see the list at the bottom).
There is an alternative understanding of the meaning of the term "urban," however, that is much more narrowly conceived. To some, "urban issues" are issues of contemporary cities (and perhaps their predecessors over a century or so). Either past cities did not have "urban issues," or else their "urban issues" are irrelevant to modern concerns, not worth considering. This is the viewpoint of the well-known policy institution, the Urban Institute, which features "nonpartisan economic and social policy research." This kind of "present-only" perspective on urbanism can be called "presentism." For critiques, see any of the papers below (particulalry Harris & Smith 2011).
Now there is another presentist institution, the new "Urban Portal" of the University of Chicago, billed as "a gateway to the latest in urban social science." I looked around the site and its resources, and much of it looks interesting and important. But I found no explicit acknowledgement that history or comparison are considered important for urban social science. Well, that is certainly not my view of the topic. Let me re-write their "about" section in a more accurate manner:
"The Urban Portal is an online hub designed to provide experts and
non-experts easy access to current research and resources on CONTEMPORARY urban
issues IN THE UNITED STATES. The Portal is a core project of the University of Chicago Urban Network,
an emerging community of scholars and others that aims to spur
innovation in the study of MODERN urban processes and to encourage
interdisciplinary discourse in urban research, theory, and policy THAT EXCLUDES HISTORICAL OR COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES."
If you'd like to see a more formal scholarly argument for the kind of broad approach to urban studies I advocate, look at this White Paper some of us submitted to the program "Future Research in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences" at the National Science Foundation, or look around our website.
Briggs, Xavier de Souza
2004 Civilization in Color: The Multicultural City in Three Millennia. City and Community 3:311-342.
2009 Low-Density, Agrarian-Based Urbanism: A Comparative View. Insights (University of Durham) 2:article 4.
2001 The Dark Side of the Grid: Power and Urban Design. Planning Perspectives 16:219-241.
2004 Sustainable Urbanism in Historical Perspective. In Towards Sustainable Cities: East Asian, North American and European Perspectives on Managing Urban Regions, edited by André Sorensen, Peter J. Marcutullio, and Jill Grant, pp. 24-37. Ashgate, Burlington, VT.
Hakim, Besim S.
2007 Generative Processes for Revitalizing Historic Towns or Heritage Districts. Urban Design International 12:87-99.
Harris, Richard and Michael E. Smith
2011 The History in Urban Studies: A Comment. Journal of Urban Affairs 33(1):99-105.
Smith, Michael E.
2009 Editorial: Just How Comparative is Comparative Urban Geography?: A Perspective from Archaeology. Urban Geography 30:113-117.
2010 Sprawl, Squatters, and Sustainable Cities: Can Archaeological Data Shed Light on Modern Urban Issues? Cambridge Archaeological Journal 20:229-253.
York, Abigail, Michael E. Smith, Benjamin Stanley, Barbara L. Stark, Juliana Novic, Sharon L. Harlan, George L. Cowgill, and Christopher Boone
2011 Ethnic and Class-Based Clustering Through the Ages: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Urban Social Patterns. Urban Studies 48(11):2399-2415.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
|1. Plaza at Dos Pilas, Maya city|
1. The Basic Mesoamerican Urban Plan
|4. Teotihuacan (1950s)|
|6. Downtown Tula|
4. Aztec City-State Capitals: Keeping the Toltec Ideals Alive
|9. Coatetelco, ballcourt|
After the fall of Tula, the Aztecs arrived on the scene. The Early Aztec period (AD 1100-1300) was a dynamic time of population growth and the expansion of city-states across the landscape. Kings established dynasties, and they claimed descent from the Toltec kings as the basis of their legitimacy. To the Aztecs, the Toltecs were the wise, great, and wonderful ancestors. So it is hardly surprising that these petty kings, who ruled small city-states, copied their cities after Tula as one way of claiming Toltec descent. Compare the plan of Coatetelco (fig. 8) to that of Tula: they are almost identical (except that Tula is much larger than Coatetelco!). The architecture and layout of these Aztec city-state capitals were political statements by the Aztec kings, proclaiming not only their power and glory, but their links to the Toltec past (this is one of the main arguments of my book, Aztec City-State Capitals).
5. Tenochtitlan, the Imperial Capital: Back to Teotihuacan and the Toltecs
This story has several lessons. First, looking at ancient city plans can be very informative. They give us insights into political and social processes from hundred, or even thousands of years ago. Second, urbanism and planning were highly dynamic processes. There was no "standard" pattern of central Mexican capital city. City plans, forms, and significance changed over time, and careful analysis, city-by-city and period-by-period, is needed to tease out these changes. Third, even though we cannot name the planners and architects responsible for these cities, we can reconstruct something of their context and aspirations. Many of their urban creations lasted for centuries (in some cases, far longer than most modern cities have survived so far), and left impressive marks on the landscape.
Read about these ancient cities and visit their ruins in Mexico. They are an important part of the Wide Urban World.
Andrews, George F.
1975 Maya Cities: Placemaking and Urbanization. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Calnek, Edward E.
2003 Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco: The Natural History of a City / Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco: La Historia Natural de una Ciudad. In El urbanismo en mesoamérica / Urbanism in Mesoamerica, edited by William T. Sanders, Alba Guadalupe Mastache, and Robert H. Cobean, pp. 149-202. Proyecto Urbanismo dn Mesoamérica / The Mesoamerican Urbanism Project, vol. 1. Pennsylvania State University and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, University Park and Mexico City.
Cowgill, George L.
1997 State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico. Annual Review of Anthropology 26:129-161.
Diehl, Richard A.
1983 Tula: The Toltec Capital of Ancient Mexico. Thames and Hudson, New York.
Smith, Michael E.
2007 Form and Meaning in the Earliest Cities: A New Approach to Ancient Urban Planning. Journal of Planning History 6(1):3-47.
Smith, Michael E.
2008 Aztec City-State Capitals. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
Monday, October 10, 2011
"Dense Living: Most of the worlds population will live in cities. Let's look at this trend and its consequences.”
Here are a few of the entries:
- Dense designs
- Is new urbanism sustainable?
- Theory of evolution links cities, science, fractal geometry
- Urban sprawl around Istanbul
- Did ancient cities have urban sprawl? (sound familiar? it should).
- Paolo Soleri: a vision of dense, liveable cities
Check out "Dense living" for some interesting news and stories.