Is the contemporary Mediterranean zone an urban space? This chapter from the volume Implosions/Explosions reflects on this question through an exploration of recent cartographic evidence compiled from state-of-the-art geospatial datasets created by leading research labs at Columbia University's Earth Institute, the Oak Ridge National Lab, and the European Commission, among others. We begin by considering various representations of concentrated urbanization, with specific reference to traditional indicators such as population (size and density) and the geographical extent of major urban regions. Such representations reveal a thick web of urban development stretching around the Mediterranean zone, albeit mainly in apparently bounded settlement configurations. In a second, more speculative step, we consider several possible representations of extended urbanization, the broad fabric of land uses, infrastructures and sociospatial connectivities that at once facilitate and result from the configuration of dense agglomeration zones. Such maps significantly broaden our understanding of the contemporary urban condition by demonstrating the ways in which the formation of the Mediterranean urban system hinges upon the reorganization of land uses and interspatial connections across the entire continent and beyond. In the early twenty-first century, understanding the “urban” character of the Mediterranean—or any other zone of the earth’s surface—requires not only fine-grained empirical data and cartographic sophistication, but systematic theoretical reflexivity regarding the categories being used to classify sociospatial organization.
In 1970, Henri Lefebvre put forward the radical hypothesis of the complete urbanization of society, a circumstance that in his view required a radical shift from the analysis of urban form to the investigation of urbanization processes. Drawing together classic and contemporary texts on the “urbanization question”, this book explores various theoretical, epistemological, methodological and political implications of Lefebvre’s hypothesis. It assembles a series of analytical and cartographic interventions that supersede inherited spatial ontologies (urban/rural, town/country, city/non-city, society/nature) in order to investigate the uneven implosions and explosions of capitalist urbanization across places, regions, territories, continents and oceans up to the planetary scale.
Foreboding declarations about contemporary urban trends pervade early twenty-first century academic, political and journalistic discourse. Among the most widely recited is the claim that we now live in an ‘urban age’ because, for the first time in human history, more than half the world’s population today purportedly lives within cities. Across otherwise diverse discursive, ideological and locational contexts, the urban age thesis has become a form of doxic common sense around which questions regarding the contemporary global urban condition are framed. This article argues that, despite its long history and its increasingly widespread influence, the urban age thesis is a flawed basis on which to conceptualize world urbanization patterns: it is empirically untenable (a statistical artifact) and theoretically incoherent (a chaotic conception). This critique is framed against the background of postwar attempts to measure the world’s urban population, the main methodological and theoretical conundrums of which remain fundamentally unresolved in early twenty-first century urban age discourse. The article concludes by outlining a series of methodological perspectives for an alternative understanding of the contemporary global urban condition.
This book project introduces a theory of planetary urbanization via a critique of dominant ideologies of the contemporary ‘urban age’ and associated discourses on global urbanism. We argue for a new epistemology of urban studies based on the distinction between concentrated and extended urbanization, which is applied to periodize the capitalist mode of territorialization and to illuminate early twenty-first century sociospatial landscapes.
The urban has become a keyword of early twenty-first-century economic, political, and cultural discourse. But as its resonance has intensified in social science and in the public sphere, the conceptual and cartographic specificity of the urban has been severely blunted. Is there any future for a distinct field of urban theory in a world in which urbanization has been generalized onto a planetary scale? This article reflects on this state of affairs and outlines a series of theses intended to reinvigorate the theoretical framework of urban studies in relation to emergent forms of urbanization. Several conceptual distinctions - between categories of practice and categories of analysis, nominal essences and constitutive essences, and concentrated and extended urbanization—are proposed to inform possible future mappings of the planetary urban condition.