Agglomeration Economics

Derinkuyu underground city in the Derinkuyu district in Nevşehir Province, Turkey

Derinkuyu underground city in the Derinkuyu district in Nevşehir Province, Turkey

“If you would see how interwoven it is in the warp and woof of civilization… go at night-fall to the top of one of the down-town steel giants and you may see how in the image of material man, at once his glory and his menace, is the thing we call a city. There beneath you is the monster, stretching acre upon acre into the far distance. High over head hangs the stagnant pall of its fetid breath, reddened with light from myriad eyes endlessly, everywhere blinking. Thousands of acres of cellular tissue, the city’s flesh outspreads layer upon layer, enmeshed by an intricate network of veins and arteries radiating into the gloom, and in them, with muffled, persistent roar, circulating as the blood circulates in your veins, is the almost ceaseless beat of the activity to whose necessities it all conforms. The poisonous waste is drawn from the system of this gigantic creature by infinitely ramifying, thread-like ducts, gathering at their sensitive terminals matter destructive of its life, hurrying it to millions of small intestines to be collected in turn by larger, flowing to the great sewers, on to the drainage canal, and finally to the ocean.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, “The Art and Craft of the Machine” in On Architecture: Selected Writings (1894-1940)

We live in urban nets whose central points represent the cities as density attractors. The development of this grid has been evolving since its first appearance following the concentration, conceived to envelop almost all human activities in opened systems that allow people to exchange matter and energy within and between them. Just after the second world war, nets begin to grow in complexity and functionality according to new technologies and cultural visions, and regained his central position in contemporary debates, exactly as the industrial revolution had made in the previous century.

We live in a spatially limited system (Earth) and our population is rocketing. Our main energy resources are scars or economically not desirable because of the actual market. We are used to say we live in a urbanized world only because half of our population lives in cities, that easily disappear near the nature extension. In addition, circulation and transportation facilities, with housing technical equipments, have been overloading cities and people since the first Ford T. From there, we were really near to the real and mature industrialism.

Within the world actual economic and cultural system, money market and labour market assume the main role in leading people interests and desires. As Adam Smith remind us,

 “Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth was originally purchased;  and its value, to those who possess it, and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command (The Wealth of nations, 1776).


Robert Minor, The Daily Worker (22nd December, 1924)

With the adoption of the money the labour itself became alienating and, instead of applying your own skills to gain goods and services with values (first of all of survival), you work to obtain something without immediate values with which you are able to get what you need. From a conceptual point of view, what seems to be inappropriate is to insert in this process a third and overcomplicating element. We needed to set a objective rule or method to exchange but this new market has been responsible to transform the way we conceive life and cities. As natural consequence, almost every existing product has a price that rarely corresponds to its real value, the maximum amount of money a specific actor is willing and able to pay.

Christoph Gielen, Nevada aerial

Christoph Gielen, Nevada aerial

Even if, as L. Mumford said,

 “The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind” (The Culture of Cities, 1938),

we know that, at this point, cities shouldn’t be considered like the only source of knowledge and experience. In reverse, cities are becoming a place in which is almost impossible to pander to solitude and calm. For this reason, many people have been moving toward the outer areas, hoping to find better and healthier conditions. But at the level with which this phenomenon appeared, it is clear that this is not going to reveal itself as the right solution, especially thinking that suburbs are the most problematic areas within the cities.

Although we should consider time as a valuable conceptual created by our minds, it is a useful parameter to measure duration. Time, as goods, is scars and everyone has to manage with it, gathering from it all needed activities. This leads us to think about how time is conceived in the city. Without mentioning any examples given that every urban agglomerate has its own rhythms, it is clear that time has become a luxury good according to a always faster and more dynamic world (job, transports, individual growth).

World urban density

World urban density

After centuries of architectural research and thousands of failed attempts, the human beings recognized that their development, as they conceive it now, it is not the most reliable and fluid growth modality. Seen from outside, our nets are liable to collapse. Looking at the world urban density map it is easy to detect that our spatial occupation is not balanced and widespread all over the planet, according to different parameters like natural conditions and resources, history, cultural development. The most of the population is condensed in Europe, North America, South Asia and beside coasts. The main empty spaces: the inner part of South America (Amazon forest), North Africa (Sahara desert), Australia and central Asia. Human beings always tried to settle in the natural habitats that allowed him to provide materials and energy, accomplishing a constant and continuous concentration mainly towards temperate and flat lands.

Speaking about occupation there are different and contrasting opinions, some of them toward the idea of a dense and compact urbanized habitat and some other toward toward an enlargement of our presence in the natural environment. The first one is about decreasing footprint, reducing pathways and resources use, still maintaining a high rate of consumption. The second one is about occupying the space we have at our disposal dismantling the city and scattering it all over the nature. This concept has strong and little appreciated roots in Frank Lloyd Wright research in relation with north american planning approach. There, urbanization reached its maximum peak despite the huge amount of flat and empty terrain and the critic against urbanization is heart-felt.

What we are speaking about is an intense change both in architectural development and in urban life concept. After having fought with the nature for a long time, now we can occupy all the available space, even in that extreme sites that we are not used to consider. Every occupation act would be different from one to another, since every building would be conceived starting from the natural properties and features of the site. Spontaneous diversity is able to construct a more flexible and reliable world, since there are not any central poles able to fall apart. In a continuous natural inhabited space people would be able to have their own space and to contribute to evolve it, in a more conscious way. Every different location would have its own resources and could exchange them with neighbours. This asset would permit to add cultural multiplicity and more interesting activities in a smaller spatial range, saving time and money from the transportation system. With more space we would have more time since every activities would be present in each cell of this human pattern. Thousands of different dwellings that adapt themselves to the natural elements contributing to create a personal private space for everyone. No more archetype or models. No more passive approach. So that this could be realized the main goal is to change and improve our economical system.


Capitalist production has become our first activity but, as J. M. Keynes said, Capitalism is “the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds”. What mainly appears unusual is that, instead of beginning a consequence of demand, production always control the market. Goods are produced and then sold to people, without counting how many unities the market is asking for. This behavior generates a general misunderstanding about what people really need.

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