Intercultural Urbanism: City Planning from the Ancient World to the Modern Day
The title of this post is the title of a book I’ve written that will be published by Zed Books this summer or early fall in its series on Just Sustainabilities, edited by Julian Agyeman. The book has been almost two years in the making, which explains my silence on this blog. Here’s the cover:
The book is based on the uncontroversial premise that cities are paradoxical. They’re engines of innovation and opportunity, but they’re also plagued by significant income inequality and segregation by ethnicity, race, and class. These inequalities and segregations are often reinforced by the urban built environment: the planning of space and the design of architecture. I argue that this condition threatens the attainment of a wider, more inclusive social and economic prosperity.
In the book I explore questions of urban prosperity and sustainability by taking an intercultural, trans-historical approach to city planning. Herein lies the book’s distinctiveness: I use a largely untapped body of knowledge—the archaeology of cities in the ancient world—to generate ideas about how public space, housing, and civic architecture might be better designed to promote inclusion and community, while also making our cities more environmentally sustainable. By “ancient” I mean the really old stuff, beyond classical Greece and Rome back to 6000 years ago and the original crucibles of urban life, such as ancient Mesopotamia, the Indus valley, and elsewhere. My category of the “ancient” also includes cities from the very recent past (as recent as 500 years ago) that, because of racial and other investigative biases, have been neglected by scholars and thus might as well be ancient; e.g., pre-colonial Africa, pre-conquest North America. I integrate urban knowledge from these archaeological contexts with knowledge generated by evolutionary studies and urban ethnography to provide an expansive look at what interculturally-sensitive placemaking might entail. I also include a detailed look at my hometown of Denver, Colorado, one of America’s most desirable and fastest growing “destination cities” but one that is also experiencing significant spatial segregation, poverty concentration, and gentrification.
The book draws and expands upon many of the essays to be found on this blog and the one I have over at Planetizen. I believe the book’s arguments have gained relevance from the intense focus that’s been placed on urban planning and design because of the COVID-19 pandemic and, especially, the ongoing violence being committed against people of color in city streets. There has been much commentary about how, in light of this convergence of events, we need to do better “urbanism.” My book provides some alternative concepts, models, metaphors, and bodies of knowledge for accomplishing that. I’m hoping that it will say something useful to urban studies scholars, urban planning professionals, and students in the disciplines of architecture, geography, history, sociology, and other fields. Here’s a look at the Table of Contents:
Manuscript reviewers were generous in their comments, and I hope that readers will be as well: