If we turn to the 1974 book Ecumenopolis, the Inevitable City of the Future, we move from a city like Islamabad to the ecumenopolis. The founding thought is that there are “no more isolated city-states” (6). The first example given is now Singapore: “Singapore is certainly not the thriving city it is today because of the 578 square kilometers which represent the actual area of its state; it world trade declines, Singapore cannot go on existing in its present form” (6) (Google Map Image).
The point is not just however that the ecumenopolis is bigger- it is also that the ecumenopolis is, at base, biological, for it’s “basic genetic material […] is Anthropos” (6). Settlements are processes and systems in “a continuous state of flux” (7). This means looking at the city with an eye and an ear for biology and for time, which lead Doxiadis to propose the new discipline of ekistics, “the study of human settlements [and] their dynamic and evolutionary processes” (7). Doxiadis’s idea of human settlements is precisely that, focused on the human—like Protogoras, Doxiadis claims “Man is the measure of all things” (8)—ekistics thus studies “the factors which make a settlement successful in human terms” (8). His thought relies on the possibility of seeing Anthropos separate from the “background of his life” (8). In fact, ekistics relies on the so-called “five ekistic elements” which are: Nature/Anthropos/Society/Shells/Networks (9). It is from this that the idea of the ecumenopolis springs: it is the 15th of the units defined by ekistics, going in scale from Anthropos to “global system (whole planet) or Ecumenopolis” (10). Interestingly, this is posited as the city of the future: “when we come to think about the future of 250 years hence, we see that nothing less than the area of the whole earth will do” (20) (see graph below!). This futurity now strikes us as strange—the ecumenopolis is not a when, but a what and it is clearly, as Doxiadis knew, an ecological what: “as human activity increases, our oceans, our atmosphere and our climates are placed in increasing jeopardy, and the need for a global response becomes a clear ecological imperative” (21). The ecumenopolis is “the universal settlement towards which our whole evolution is leading” (36). Doxiadis provides a rather strange map of this.
What then do we take from this? The ecumenopolis, for Doxiadis, more an idea of what will happen than a concept for thinking. The Anthropos is King here. No Deep ecology here—and perhaps not even an ecology. The ecumenopolis is not Morton’s mesh. It is perhaps its flip side, it’s “bandaid,” the mesh submitted to human mastery. Perhaps we can reclaim the term—by making it strange, by recasting Doxiadis’s Anthropos as Morton’s “strange stranger.” We shall see. Going forward then, let us always think of the word "ecumenopolis" as pronounced in the video above--i.e. by a voice that is almost, but not quite, familiar as human, a voice that is almost familiar, uncanny.
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
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