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Question and Answer: Challenge and Change I

Audience:  To the panel who does not know me I'm Professor Michael White from U.T. Austin.  I'm an ancient historian, classics and religious studies.  I want to ask a historically based question, but I think one that from my own research might have some interesting questions to pose.  I want to start with two observations and then raise a couple of questions ‑‑ general questions for anyone who wants to answer.

 

About 12 years ago I did a series of studies on the Roman world and population change in Roman cities. To get some perspective, before the century of growth from 1650 to 1750, no city in Europe topped 50,000 people.  Whereas, in the Roman Empire we project that there might have been at least 20 cities in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, that is from Italy to Syria, that were over or around 50,000 people.  A large part of that is now recognized to be immigration. However, the big difference is that pre-modern period cities were death traps.

 

Cities did not grow generally by virtue of population turnover.  Rather, they grew primarily by immigration.  Cities were not able to sustain themselves in terms of excess mortality rates. Consequently the rapid turnover is something you see as a feature of the Roman Empire.  That's culturally and ethnically and socially, as well.  So those are some basic observations.  And the implications are observable on historical and archaeological grounds.  That is, you can look at these ancient cities, map the growth of buildings, architecture in particular periods of time and correlate that with population growth and other things.

 

In my study I found that social networks and network theory was one of the main features by which you could explain these population changes and the process of socioeconomic integration over periods of time.  That's one thing I want to ask about.  What kinds of ways could we use social network theory or theories like it, central place theory, a few others like that, to help us to make both historical observations but also future predictions or prognostications about it? And secondl, what are the real cultural educations at the level of pluralism and integration?  And I don't mean primarily racial integration or ethnic integration, but cultural integration.

 

Dr. Moore: I'll tackle a little bit first. We as Americans tend to be technological determinists.  We think that we're really smart and that we can solve all of our problems by inventing a better machine, a better machine to fix the problem that the last machine created. The problem is that we have forgotten to include in our technological systems an understanding that technological choices have social and environmental consequences.  So rather than try to produce new machines, new and better machines, new and better architecture - well I would say that the design problem that we have in front of us is an eco-sociotechnical system problem.  In other words, we need to integrate all three of those kinds of systems in the projects that we make.  That's a short answer to a long question.

 

Dean Taylor: Well, clearly, your question provokes a lot of different responses across the many topics that you raised.  I wanted to comment on the social networks, population changes and immigration by focusing on what's happened in the second half of the 20th century in the United States. And this is in comparison to comments that many of our colleagues in Europe still make that if you're born in southern Germany you're likely to spend your life in southern Germany.  We've become such an incredibly mobile nation that identity, where you were born, has been replaced for so many people by where you live now. Our social networks haven't quite caught up with that particular phenomenon.

 

Mobility we have always seen as a wonderful thing, that ability to follow a job, follow your dream.  But it has left us with a weakness in certain networks of the kind that we are used to seeing.

 

Now, one talks about Mumbai a little bit differently after the last couple of weeks than we did before.  Mumbai is a very interesting place where two-thirds of the population of 18 million people live in substandard housing, otherwise known as the slums.  Half of those could afford to live elsewhere if the economy generated the housing that they could use.  However, the economy doesn't.  And in general many people do not want to move out of their existing slums because of the extraordinary pattern of social networks that have developed there. Now becoming famous are slums like Dharavi or Santa City or some of the others in Mumbai. We had the opportunity to do a quick job of mapping the social networks in one of those slums where there were 40 different networks that had come back into existence around either city of origin, family, extended family relationships or shared work place and any number of things.  But particularly family-driven things.

 

So I think, Steven, for your students and for ours they really are questions of what it means in the 21st century to belong to that community that extends beyond place.  I think it's a fabulous subject that you brought up.  And how a mobile society finds the kind of networks that are truly sustaining.

 

Dr. Murdock: Let me just say a little bit in terms of what we know about population growth and immigration.  First of all, the size of cities, if you look at them over time, certainly technology has made a tremendous difference.  And that technology is in terms of basic systems of sanitation, et cetera, which have made it possible to put more people in closer space to one another. We think of Rome as a huge city but it would be a very modest-sized city in size if you were to look at it compared to the cities of the world today.

 

Social networks have always played a very major role in immigration.  And they've played a role in deciding where you settled, to what extent you went to City A or City B.  But also tied with the American scene has been an assimilation process that over time reduced the importance of that social network relative to at least as a source of new people. The United States is somewhat unique.  There are only really two or three parts of the world that have had continuous immigration.  We are one of those.  The U.S. and Canada and Australia/New Zealand are the only ones that have continuous patterns of net immigration over long periods of time.  So it's a combination, I think, of social and cultural networks. Now, we should not forget the push element.  And that is I don't leave my home unless something forces me to or because I see a better opportunity at the other end.  When you talk about immigration you're talking about a very complex set of phenomenon.

 

Audience I'm Wayne Holtzman from UT Austin and I think I'm directing my question mostly to Dr. Taylor.  Architectural visions within the developing countries, Asia, the Middle East, are reaching out to the atmosphere, the stratosphere, are reaching out over the ocean, such as in Dubai where you have The Palms, you have The World, the reconstruction of these worlds in the ocean itself, or Malaysia, where they're reaching for the stratosphere.Now, is this a trend that has ecological implications for the rest of us?  Is it a trend that's likely to grow?

 

Dean Taylor: I choose my words carefully here because I think you've asked an extremely intriguing question, which is as we enter the 21st century and we have so much information about historical city forms, the evolution of cities, that relationship to political issues, society issues, cultural issues and even issues of war, how do we choose to build the relatively new cities?  How do we respond to these enormous rates, in the case of China and India, of urbanization in cities and in the case of the Middle East in particular, which also has immigration issues.

 

If you take the Emirates, for example, of which Dubai is one, the typical emirate is probably between 11 to 15 percent Emirati. Let's just say five decades, in that time of country building and city building the population has become 85 percent not-Emirati, which in the United Arab Emirates means that you do not become a citizen.  There is no way to be naturalized.  There are always the naturals and the aliens, which is a very different basis.

 

Having said that, it is amazing to me that with the knowledge we have about the way cities evolve that such extraordinary wealth is being directed to build places with at best, a ten years' life.  Giant super blocks, extraordinary and eye-catching forms.  Especially as the next generation of development begins to happen there, there needs to be a genuine commitment to the environmental impact. They have the resources to invest in something less environmentally demanding, if we look narrowly at energy. But I think you have to wonder about that particular imagery and about that form of city making.  What is it going to be next?  How is it going to evolve?  I mean, we've got the Mall of America and they have one that's three times as big.  What's next?  Is bigger still better?

 

I think what we all have learned and what Steven was talking about, we need to better understand the future implications every time we build new.  How can it be adapted?  If we're running a bus now, how can that be applied to a larger transit system?  As we build, how can we imagine a modification for the different household types that result from different immigration groups. I think sadly we see in Dubai and other places - early investments in Shanghai, not so much yet in India ‑ we see a desire to snag the momentary benefit without thinking about the long term.

 

Mr. Powell: Thank you panelists. Let's take a short break before charging ahead with this morning’s program.