|1.Walled neighborhoods in Chang'an|
|2. Neighborhoods (clusters) at La Joyanca|
(1) NeighborhoodsFor years I've been telling my classes that neighborhoods are one of the few urban universals. Figure 1 here shows the walled neighborhoods at the Chinese Tang city of Chang'an. Recent research of our urban group here at Arizona State University, has been targeting the neighborhood at cities through time. Archaeologists have woken up to the importance of urban neighborhoods, and this has become an active area of fieldwork and analysis; see the new book, The Neighborhood as a Social and Spatial unit in Mesoamerican Cities. The clusters of houses at Classic Maya sites were neighborhoods; figure 2 here shows one example, the city of La Joyanca (from the chapter by Eva Lemmonier) Even semi-urban settlements have neighborhoods - see my post on this.
|3. Bhaktapur neighborhood plaza|
|4. Model of a Bkaktapur shrine|
(2) Urban ServicesThe next research project of our urban group is a study of urban services in premodern cities. In background reading for this project it occurred to me that urban services are another urban universal. When people live together in cities, they cannot take care of all of their basic social needs in the same way that rural people in villages can, and they also take on new needs that must be met in the city. Someone has to provide basic services, which include infrastructure (water, roads), education, commercial outlets, ritual, and places to gather. In modern cities, governments provide most of the urban services, but in medieval cities many services came from guilds, church groups, and private citizens. How does this work in premodern cities? And how are services affected by elites and inequalities? These are the basic questions we will be studying over the next few years. I will talk about our project in a future post (click here for some preliminary information). For now, I will just mention some basic services and how they intersect with neighborhoods.
|5. Neighborhood temple in Calixtlahuaca|
We are studying urban services through their facilities -- the places where they are provided. For the comparative study we have singled out three services that occur in most cities: markets/shops; temples; and assembly spaces. The small plazas and shrines of Bhaktapur are examples of neighborhood-level services in that city. Neighborhood-level service facilities can be widely distributed in cities, and typically there are many of them. But cities also have higher-level service facilities - that is, facilities that are larger and serve more people, and there are fewer of these features. Thus in Mesoamerican cities, there are often many small temples, distributed around the city (fig. 5), while there are only a few large central temples (fig. 6).
|6. High-order temple at Palenque|
|7. Central plaza at Copan|
|8. Medieval noble and beggar|
|9. Elite and commoner house at Cuexcomate|
While elites played important roles in ancient cities and societies, there has been surprisingly little comparative research on elites around the globe. Archaeologists usually identify elites by the size of their houses (fig. 9), and as the excavation and analysis of houses moves forward around the globe, we will learn more about ancient elites and their roles in cities.
Are there other urban universals beyond neighborhoods, urban services, and elites? Let me know if you have any suggestions. There is still a lot to learn about cities throughout history in the wide, urban world.