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Innovative memory and resilient cities: echoes from ancient Constantinople
Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
2011 (English)In: The urban mind: cultural and environmental dynamics / [ed] Paul Sinclair, Frands Herschend, Christian Isendahl and Gullög Nordquist, Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 2011, 391-406 p.Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This chapter uses insights from resilience thinking in analysing a two-thousand-year periodof ancient and modern Constantinople, addressing one of the great challenges of the UrbanAnthropocene: how to nurture an ecologically sound urbanisation. One of the lessons isthat Constantinople maintained a diversity of insurance strategies to a greater degree thanmany historical and contemporary urban centres. It invested heavily not only in militaryinfrastructure but also in systems for supplying, storing, and producing food and water.From major granaries and at least four harbours the citizens could receive seaborne goods,but during sieges the trade networks broke down. At those times, when supplies ran dry,there were possibilities to cultivate food within the defensive walls and to catch fish in theGolden Horn. Repeated sieges, which occurred on average every fifty years, generated adiversity of social-ecological memories – the means by which the knowledge, experience,and practice of how to manage a local ecosystem were stored and transmitted in acommunity. These memories existed in multiple groups of society, partly as a response tothe collapse of long-distance, seaborne, grain transports from Egypt. Food production andtransports were decentralized into a plethora of smaller subsistence communities (oikoi),which also sold the surplus to the markets of the city. In this way Constantinople becamemore self-reliant on regional ecosystems. An additional result was that the defensive wallswere moved, not in order to construct more buildings but to increase the proportionof gardens and agricultural land. In a comparison with Cairo, it can be seen that theseinnovations related to enhanced self-reliance in food production made it possible for392Constantinople to bounce back from extreme hardships, such as extended sieges, withoutcollapsing into chaos or moral decay. Transformed urban morphology of the city wouldsimply remind residents, through the visual presence of a living garden culture, of theimportance of the latter for food security. Without the gardens the long intervals betweensieges would probably have been enough to dissolve living memory. Hence, the urbanresilience of Constantinople was enhanced, promoting well-established old regimes andtraditions of importance for producing ecosystem services to society while at the sametime testing and refining new and successful regimes, or in other words through theinterplay of memory and innovation. Currently, and even more so in decades to come, themindsets of urban people hold power in a global arena. Questions related to how the lossof green space in metropolitan landscapes will affect worldviews are worrisome since it isthe desires and demands of urban people that will affect future decisions and essentiallydetermine the fate of the planet. People throughout the world, and not least in Westernsocieties, need to be constantly reminded of our dependence on a living planet and staymotivated to support it. Social-ecological memories related to local food production haveto be nurtured in urban landscapes as well, and an urban morphology is needed thatstrengthens ecological awareness across urban populations rather than the opposite.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 2011. 391-406 p.
, Studies in Global Archaeology, ISSN 1651-1255 ; 15
National Category
Environmental Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-67319OAI: diva2:469969
Available from: 2011-12-27 Created: 2011-12-27 Last updated: 2014-08-19Bibliographically approved

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Barthel, Stephan
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