Aureli on the city versus urbanisation.


Pier Vittorio Aureli, in The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (2011), distinguishes between the city, “the political dimension of coexistence”, and urbanisation, “the economic logic of social management” (p. x). The city is a political space, and urbanisation is an economic space. He claims urbanisation is managerial, driven by private concerns, oriented towards infrastructural functions, and tending towards a totalitarian whole. The city, by contrast, he characterises as agonistic, public, self-critical, and immune to totalitarianism.

Aureli justifies this distinction by appeal to the Greek one between polis, governed by technē politikē and oikos, governed by technē oikonomikē. He finds this reflected (through a little semantic gymnastics) in the Roman civitas and urbs. This appeal-to-the-wisdom-of-the-ancients isn’t convincing. It’s far from clear that Greek or Roman cities provide a good model for contemporary cities or politics.

To my mind, distinguishing between politics and economics is wrong and completely artificial. If that’s all Aureli’s distinction between cities and urbanisation rests on, then I think that’s wrong too.



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