The word Ecumenopolis was invented in 1967 by the Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis to represent the idea that in the future urban areas and megalopolises would eventually fuse and there would be a single continuous worldwide city as a progression from the current urbanisation, population growth, transport and human networks.
This concept was already current in science fiction in 1942, with Trantor in the Foundation series. When made public, Doxiadis’ idea of ecumenopolis seemed “close to science fiction”, but today is “suprisingly pertinent” according to geography researchers Pavle Stamenovic, Dunja Predic & Davor Eres, especially as a consequence of Globalisation and Europeanisation.1
In his second look at possible futures for Earth Isaac examines the concept of Ecumenopolises, planet spanning cities homes to trillions. He examines the concept in detail, starting with the first portrayals of it in fiction and extending on how Arcologies and other technologies we’ve discussed on the channel might be employed to create a Ecumenopolis and what they might be like to live in.
What Is An Ecumenopolis?
A city planet is a subtrope of Single-Biome Planet and Mega City, in which said biome is said city. In other words, this is what happens when someone takes Planetville a little too literally: there is only one “city” on the planet, and it covers the entire planet.
Sometimes referred to as a planet city, world city (though “world city” has also been used to mean other things), completely urbanised world, omniopolis / omnopolis, or ecumenopolis. While most examples are recent, the concept dates as far back as the nineteenth century work of Thomas Lake Harris, and the term “City Planet” dates at least as far back as the first draft of the script for Star Wars: A New Hope.
This trope occurs as the apparent result of a civilisation, presumably over centuries of expansion, converting the entire surface of a world into one vast city. To be sure, many City Planets are divided into “administrative sectors” or other such local government institutions, but for all practical purposes, it’s all the same city. Generally, this trope implies that for all practical purposes, the only biome of importance on the planet is urban jungle. Taken to an extreme, it may be implied the locals even paved over volcanoes and oceans in the process of creating the City Planet. 2
City Planets in Science fiction
Science fiction writers have long dreamed of a completely urbanised planet – a planet covered by a vast city, no longer “natural.” The idea of the completely urbanised planet is recalled in the 1972 film, Silent Running. In this film, no images of earth are shown, but the descriptions in plot imply that no vegetation exists on earth, the planet has become completely urbanised.
The only vegetation left for the human race exists in space, and even this is eventually abandoned. Somewhat pessimistic, heavy-handed and didactic in terms of plot, this film nevertheless begs the question – what would the planet look like as a giant city, beyond the metropolis – an ecumenopolis.
Long before Silent Running, this idea first surfaced with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy of 1942. Here the idea of a planet existing entirely of architecture was put forth with the city “Trantor.” Lucas used this city as a precedent for the Imperial City in the Star Wars saga.
Covering a whole planet in urban built form, the Imperial City was originally planned to be included in the original Star Wars: A New Hope as the planet “Jhantor,” a clear reference to Asimov’s “Trantor.” Perhaps facing the same difficulties as Douglas Trumball, director of Silent Running, Lucas was unsatisfied with the technology available at the time to portray this planet-city, and instead revised the plot to omit it.
The Imperial City, renamed “Coruscant” (meaning glittering, shining, full of light) was first introduced in Episode I: the Phantom Menace.
In Outland, the architecture of control is portrayed in repetition, emphasising a lack of space and feeling of compression in interior environments. As well, the main premise for the settlement on a moon of Jupiter is for mining, exploitation of natural resources, a commodity presumably controlled by a capitalist market.
The images of Coruscant from space imply a specific organisation, with axes, centres, and foci. Ironically, these views of a completely urbanised planet recall diagrams from Ebenezer Howard’s idyllic Garden Cities from the late 1800s. Though drastically different in intended appearance and materiality, both views relate an optimism regarding modernism, progress, the ability for technology to enhance everyday life.3
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