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Cities and Urban Development across Time and Space: Exploring Transcendent Theory, Models and Methodologies

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups:
Organizers: Matthew Mandich, Thomas Hutton



Matthew Mandich is a Roman Archaeologist and the Director of the Signum Vortumni Field School (ISAR) located in the Roman Forum. His research focuses on the application of models and theories used for the study of contemporary cities to analyse the spatial and economic growth and decline of ancient Rome and Roman settlements throughout the Mediterranean basin. Recent publications include "Ancient City, Universal Growth? Exploring Urban Expansion and Economic Development on Rome's Eastern Periphery" (in Frontiers in Digital Humanities) and "Urban Scaling and the Growth of Rome" (in the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal).

Scott Ortman is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His research focuses on expanding the relevance of archaeology for contemporary social issues, especially with respect to urbanization and economic development. Recent publications include “A New Kind of Relevance for Archaeology” (in Frontiers in Digital Humanities) and “Settlement Scaling Theory: Bridging the study of ancient and contemporary urban systems” (with Jose Lobo, Luis Bettencourt and Michael Smith, in Urban Studies).

Elvin Wyly is Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia. His research interests include gentrification and neighborhood change, housing finance, racial discrimination in home mortgage lending, and the history of quantification and modeling in urban research. Recent publications include “Hayek in the Cloud: Conservative Cognition and the Evolution of the Smart City” (City), “The Evolving State of Gentrification.” (Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie), and Geography’s Quantitative Revolutions: Edward A. Ackerman and the Cold War Origins of Big Data (West Virginia University Press).

Tom Hutton is Professor of urban studies and city planning in the Centre for Human Settlements, University of British Columbia. His research interests include problems of comparative urbanization and contemporary urbanism, situated within the spaces and territories of globalizing cities, with a special interest in the persistence of contingency as played out at the urban district and community levels. Publications include Cities & Economic Change (Sage 2015), co-edited with Ronan Paddison; Cities and the Cultural Economy (Routledge Critical Introductions to Urbanism: 2016); and Millennial Metropolis: space, place and territory in the remaking of London (Routledge forthcoming).


Contemporary scholarship on urban change is situated within a rich and contentious moment of theorization, as the field expands to incorporate cities from the growth economies of East Asia and the global south, as well as research on excavations of the increasingly complex internal structures, systems and social order of the city. There are also opportunities to learn from histories of urban networks and their imprints on the internal spaces of cities. Reference points include scholarship on impacts of urban hierarchies and circuits of trade on the reproduction of space within cities, typified by the work of Fernand Braudel, Jean Gottmann and Anthony King. Finally, there is stimulating new scholarship on processes implicated in the reproduction of urban form, the built environment and social space.

For this panel session we discuss development in cities over historical eras to identify incisive ideas concerning the contemporary urban condition. We draw on innovative work by scholars such as Kevin Fisher, Eleanora Redaelli, Sarah Levin-Richardson, Matthew Mandich, and Scott Ortman, as well as theorists of the contemporary city. We also reference a sample of case studies which have the potential to serve as comparators of urban change over time, including Rome, but also cities which have served – not without contention – as exemplars of spatial change, including London and Chicago.

Elvin Wyly and Tom Hutton will discuss the physical expansion of cities beyond the twentieth-century core as experienced both in mature western cities and those situated within the global south. This process has been systematically studied within the ‘Global Sububanisms’ project directed by Roger Keil, while Wyly performed a leadership role in the development of the research program and publications strategy. Wyly and Hutton will also reflect on a three-year visiting speaker program they co-managed titled ‘The Next Urban Planet: a cross-sectoral consultation on rethinking the city in time’, funded by Green College at the University of British Columbia.

Scott Ortman will discuss the work of the “Social Reactors Project” which is of value for new perspectives on urban social and spatial organization. In recent decades researchers in geography and related disciplines have promoted a “new science of cities” as an outgrowth of the dramatic expansion in our ability to collect data on contemporary urban systems. This formulation tends to treat the city and its properties as the object of study whereas the more appropriate focus should be the process of urbanization. When framed in this way, the archaeological record becomes central to a robust theory of urbanization, and may even help to clarify aspects of this process that are difficult to study in contemporary urban systems. Ortman will illustrate this point by discussing examples where archaeological evidence has clarified and expanded aspects of urban scaling theory, an approach that was initially developed in the context of contemporary cities.

Finally, Matthew Mandich will discuss methodological innovations in research on the spatial (and economic) organization of ancient Rome. As the City experienced substantial physical and demographic growth it also experienced periods of significant economic change that are often difficult to track and assess. However, archaeologically observable changes in land use on the City’s urban fringes can be used to investigate broader economic oscillations over the longue durée. As Rome’s continuously built area (or continentia aedificia) grew beyond the City’s physical, traditional, and administrative boundaries it would have caused the successive displacement of people and socio-economic activities. To better analyze this evolving landscape Mandich exploits models and theories from economic geography and urban morphology to interpret changes in peripheral land use as a function of urban expansion and economic development. By re-examining the available archaeological and textual evidence concerning changing land use on Rome’s periphery he is able to define the types of urban and economic growth (and decline) that occurred over time and determine whether ancient Rome performed like a modern city.


Type Details Minutes
Panelist Scott Ortman University of Colorado At Boulder 15
Panelist Matthew Mandich ISAR 15
Discussant Elvin Wyly University of British Columbia 15

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