Visualizing the Planetary Urban
Nikos Katsikis, “Visualizing the Planetary Urban” in Harrison J. and Hoyler M. (eds.)
Doing Global Urban Research (SAGE, 2018)
At the beginning of the 21st century, urbanization is widely recognized as a major factor in the extensive social, economic and environmental transformations that have been reshaping life on the planet. As grasping the multi-scalar urbanization processes becomes increasingly important to questions of uneven social and ecological development, the proliferation of new tools and methodologies of visualizing the planetary urban offers exciting new potentials. However, while technical and quantitative advancements in visualizing the planetary urban are necessary, they are on their own largely insufficient to fully grasp the complexities of urbanization processes, as long as they are limited by a particular conceptualization of the urban: A conceptualization framed around the condition of agglomerations in their various forms (city, metropolis, megalopolis), primarily focusing on their socio-spatial configuration (growth, expansion, economic and demographic performance) and their relationships with each other (networks of cities, polycentric urban regions). This conceptualization has led to a paradoxical condition. While the importance of the relationship of agglomerations to the rest of the planetary terrain is widely recognized, it is weakly addressed. Moreover, when it is considered, it is often framed through an unproductive binarism, that of the urban world exercising some sort of influence over its rural, natural surroundings. Subsequently, most attempts to visualize he planetary urban have been reduced to an effort to predominantly chart the dimensions, growth and expansion of dense agglomerations, of how the urban world morphs over a great exterior. While the transformative agency of urbanization in organizing life on the planet is widely recognized, the majority of the planetary terrain remains a great exterior to the urban, a world apart. Thus, grasping and visualizing the full dimensions of urbanization in the world requires an understanding of urbanization beyond agglomeration. What is the essence of urbanization is not the condition of concentration per se, but rather the condition of geographical interdependency that emerges out of it, transforming both the dense agglomeration landscapes (concentrated urbanization), and a multitude of operational landscapes (extended urbanization). As urbanization becomes generalized and globalized, the condition of geographical interdependence tends to integrate the whole used area of the planet. How can this condition of geographical interdependency be conceptualized and charted? How can we conceive the contours of urbanization beyond agglomeration? The rest of this contribution highlights the challenges and potentials of this task, examining the major conceptual and methodological challenges, as well as potential ways forward.