Research Topic

Where Do Cities Come From and Where Are They Going To? Modelling Past and Present Agglomerations to Understand Urban Ways of Life

About this Research Topic

Over the last decade, there has been a surge of interest in urbanization and economic development, sparked by the realization that making urban life sustainable is one of the greatest challenges facing us in the 21st century (this is now one of the core sustainable development goals of the United Nations). This has exerted considerable pressure on researchers to come up with more scientific ways of studying urbanism and economic activity over the long run, which has resulted not only in the development of new theoretical frameworks, but also in the collection of vast amounts of data from a range of settings.

This has led to the realization that, although there are significant differences between settlements in different settings, there are nonetheless important regularities and commonalities between a diverse group of settlements in range of geographical and historical contexts, including both ancient and modern ones. This suggests that a common feature of settlements is their ability to generate increased social connectivity, greater division of labour and specialization, and enhanced technological invention and innovation, albeit with costs to levels of equality, quality of life, and standards of living, as well as impacts on the environment, which cannot be separated from the emergence of confederations and states and the creation of settlement systems, hierarchies and networks.

We believe that this field of enquiry now stands at a critical juncture. Although it is now feasible to talk about many aspects of ancient and modern urbanism with relative confidence, such as the numbers of cities or their sizes, much of the discussion of these themes within historical and archaeological circles has been on a discursive or qualitative level, while it is often difficult to harmonize the different models that have been applied to date into a consistent empirical and theoretical framework. A new approach to settlements throughout different contexts should now be within our grasp, however, thanks to both the ease with which information can be disseminated and the facilities that recent developments in IT offer us to model, analyse, and statistically test data.

This should allow us to connect recent developments in archaeological research with those in other disciplines, including economics, anthropology, sociology, and social ecology, not only enabling us to add historical depth to our models of urbanism, but also to connect understanding about cities in the past and present, offering opportunities to predict their evolution and improve policies in the future. With this ambitious aim in mind, in this Research Topic we welcome articles that apply comparative and quantitative methods, such as complex systems theory, settlement scaling theory, agent-based modelling, rank-size analysis, network analysis, gravity models, space-syntax etc., to different types of historical and archaeological data (including material culture and data from surface survey and remote sensing such as satellite imagery and LIDAR) in both ancient and modern contexts to contribute to an interdisciplinary discussion engaging with modelling urbanism in the past, present, and future.


Keywords: Urbanization, economic growth, modelling, Quantitative Approach, Comparative Perspective


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Over the last decade, there has been a surge of interest in urbanization and economic development, sparked by the realization that making urban life sustainable is one of the greatest challenges facing us in the 21st century (this is now one of the core sustainable development goals of the United Nations). This has exerted considerable pressure on researchers to come up with more scientific ways of studying urbanism and economic activity over the long run, which has resulted not only in the development of new theoretical frameworks, but also in the collection of vast amounts of data from a range of settings.

This has led to the realization that, although there are significant differences between settlements in different settings, there are nonetheless important regularities and commonalities between a diverse group of settlements in range of geographical and historical contexts, including both ancient and modern ones. This suggests that a common feature of settlements is their ability to generate increased social connectivity, greater division of labour and specialization, and enhanced technological invention and innovation, albeit with costs to levels of equality, quality of life, and standards of living, as well as impacts on the environment, which cannot be separated from the emergence of confederations and states and the creation of settlement systems, hierarchies and networks.

We believe that this field of enquiry now stands at a critical juncture. Although it is now feasible to talk about many aspects of ancient and modern urbanism with relative confidence, such as the numbers of cities or their sizes, much of the discussion of these themes within historical and archaeological circles has been on a discursive or qualitative level, while it is often difficult to harmonize the different models that have been applied to date into a consistent empirical and theoretical framework. A new approach to settlements throughout different contexts should now be within our grasp, however, thanks to both the ease with which information can be disseminated and the facilities that recent developments in IT offer us to model, analyse, and statistically test data.

This should allow us to connect recent developments in archaeological research with those in other disciplines, including economics, anthropology, sociology, and social ecology, not only enabling us to add historical depth to our models of urbanism, but also to connect understanding about cities in the past and present, offering opportunities to predict their evolution and improve policies in the future. With this ambitious aim in mind, in this Research Topic we welcome articles that apply comparative and quantitative methods, such as complex systems theory, settlement scaling theory, agent-based modelling, rank-size analysis, network analysis, gravity models, space-syntax etc., to different types of historical and archaeological data (including material culture and data from surface survey and remote sensing such as satellite imagery and LIDAR) in both ancient and modern contexts to contribute to an interdisciplinary discussion engaging with modelling urbanism in the past, present, and future.


Keywords: Urbanization, economic growth, modelling, Quantitative Approach, Comparative Perspective


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 October 2018 Manuscript
15 December 2018 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 October 2018 Manuscript
15 December 2018 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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