City-States and Ekistics

By Stefano Cagnato (italian-ecuadorian digital humanist and post-colonial feminist marxist)

I’ve been submerged into a game of Civilization V with a close friend. We’ve managed to destroy Askia’s empire, and Elizabeth didn’t fare too well, either. Gandhi and Augustus Caesar are next.

Civilization V is a turn-based strategy computer game. As a player, you control a growing empire, choosing between dozens of leaders belonging to different civilizations that existed around the world. The game can be pretty complicated, allowing you to control where citizens work and giving your empire a different focus depending on your goals. But for me, the most interesting aspect of the game are the outliers, the infamous city-states.

City-states exist independently of any civilizations controlled by players. City-states have no single leader to represent them; rather, they have what seems to be an ideally democratic society that benefits their citizens more directly. As a civilization, you can gain their support by giving them gifts or helping them whenever they’re involved in a war. In exchange, they will provide units, political support, and special resources. And, to be honest, I think city-states, though not especially dramatized in the game, are the sole representation of an efficient nation based in one city that can fully support its citizens.

In the game, citizens suffer at the cost of expansion. If your civilization needs gold, you can make sure every city is working toward a better gold output. But this comes at a high price. Farms are left unattended. The success of schools, universities, and even temples is sacrificed for this goal. It takes a really skilled player to create a perfect balance in each city belonging to a civilization in order to keep everyone happy. Maybe not everyone who plays the game is skilled enough to rule a civilization. Lucky for us, it’s just a game.

What happens when we talk about real world cities and modern-day civilizations?

A country the size of the United States proves to be too difficult to unite under one common goal. City-states, however, can be molded around the interests of its citizens. Some will do well and others won’t, which I think is the nature of the world, but they may have a more definitive approach when it comes to addressing the specific needs of the people in their cities. City-states can more efficiently provide food, shelter, power, and running water for its citizens.

Opinions on the subject are mixed. Some say city-states are a natural progression to countries like The Netherlands, a relatively small country with the great majority of its population living in cities, but impossible to conceive in larger countries like Brazil, India, and the USA. Some say modern US cities, such as L.A. and New York, are active city-states “contemporary versions of the great city-states that arose in the 13th century and ruled Europe until the consolidation of modern nation-states a few centuries later.” I don’t think there is a definitive answer, but we can definitely see how a city could potentially rule themselves in a more appropriate manner that would more positively affect their citizens and more precisely tackle its needs.

Let’s talk about ekistics. It’s basically an all-encompassing term referring to the planning of human settlements in relation to the physical world in which we live and the social and psychological needs/desires a settlement might have. The main goal is to achieve “harmony between the inhabitants of a settlement and their physical and sociocultural environments.” Konstantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, the Greek architect who first used the term in 1942, expressed that ekistics is more scientific than urban planning. The concept culminates in ecumenopolis, another term created by Doxiadis to express a city made of the whole world.

For detailed reading:-–7

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