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Post nº13 | What is a city?

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

The recurring image in all my blog posts is a map of the socio-cultural forces (also called abstract morphological structure). I studied this theme as part of my doctoral research (1996) on the emergence of the shape of the city of Lisbon, its morphogenesis. In other words, the abstract morphological structure corresponds to the distribution of statuses and institutions, of the different thematizations on the topological surface.

These social motives maintain power relations between them (attraction/repulsion) that generate qualitative discontinuities. From the analysis that extends from 700 BC. I was able to extract the components that always remain invariable, these I named The Urban Universals.

I demonstrated how its components differentiate and articulate space over time. As I explained on other publications, we have three distinguished cartographic level. The 1st level illustrates how the categories, and the values were morphologically stabilized on the geographical space (physico-symbolic), leading to the formation of a 2nd level of the socio-cultural forces. The link between these two cartographic levels (values and forces) creates a 3rd level of the generation of the urban form (concrete forms).

© 2022 by Isabel Marcos | This iluminura is protected by the rights of the Museum Condes de Castro Guimarães, Cascais, Portugal

Morphogenesis allows the articulation of values, forces, and forms, and Semiogenesis allows the detachment of three structural positions: Laws (A), Names (B) and Values (C). Its positions correspond to the three structuring activities of “living together” (The Urban Universals):

Legislate (A) – the ability to "Legislate" is the generation of law for all human activity, it determines the modalities of application of a power on a territory. It allows, for example, the regulation of financial markets, and, on the other hand, to defend the most deprived of society.

Nominate (B) – the ability to 'nominate' to enforce the 'Law' is often carried by 'Appointed' legal institutions to enable teaching, research, commerce, labour, health, culture, art, dialogue, etc. This capacity engenders an interactive functioning based on “creation” as the thematic value of city.

Produce (C) – the ability to “Produce” comes from a certain cooperation between politicians, “representatives of the Law as symbolized experience”, and institutions, “Names invested by the Law as symbolized statuses”, which allows the opening of a space of stability, of creation of values and of "civil go-between", the practice of trade, art, and cultural activities, ensuring the renewal of the notion of "living together ".

To conclude, the city is the visible expression of the ability to (A) create “the law”, to (B) "name" the institutions that apply this "law" to enable the creation of values, and to (C) “produce”, which depends on the smooth functioning between the creation of the “law” and the application of this law in the “named” territory.

If the “Law” (A) and the “Names” (B) weaken, the “Production of value” goes into crisis! In short, the city has inscribed in itself the ability to create conditions for “living together” in a sustainable way.

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