The Urban Anthropocene

Photo: Nora Ligorano

It is surely not coincidental that the Anthropocene proposal has become a focus of attention at the same moment that urbanization has been recognized as a primary fact of environmental life.

Despite an obvious affinity, the Anthropocene and urbanization are not the same thing. The Anthropocene encompasses a suite of fundamental Earth-system processes which form a kind of dynamic backdrop against which humans (and other forms of life) do what they do to inhabit the planet—dynamic because that backdrop is influenced by what humans (in particular) do. Urbanization is more locatable—it can be identified with the spatial concentration of human beings, as driven by and a driver of economic, social and environmental change. It seems fair to think of the Anthropocene as the wider concept, and urbanization as, in comparison, the more specific.

Nonetheless, our concern on this blog with the question of habitation highlights a close connection between the two phenomena: cities are where, increasingly, human beings will inhabit the Anthropocene. Indeed, as human constructions, cities can be taken to stand for the anthropogenic quality of the epoch defined by the impacts of human habitation: a city looks like an Anthropocene landscape. Further, of course, cities are in a two-way causal relationship with the Anthropocene: key contributions to the Anthropocene result from processes at the core of urban existence—and cities (especially on coasts) are obviously sites of vulnerability to the Anthropocene’s effects.

These and other connections between cities, habitation, and the Anthropocene have come up in many discussions around this blog. A number of us have happened to post on urban topics—and in our in-person meetings we have reflected on this shared interest. Therefore we have decided to spend some time working in the intersection between these themes. In line with our goals for this blog, authors will look at the intersection from his or her own disciplinary perspective—and will try to provide access to work in that discipline that provides useful conceptual tools, and ways of specifying how the cities and the Anthropocene bear on each other. We hope our on-going discussion, which you are invited to join by commenting, helps to illuminate the urban Anthropocene.

Posts in the series are collected here.

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