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Where Are the Star Planners?

I recently discovered the Greek urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis (1913-1975) through a biographical sketch by Ray Bromley in a collection of essays. An energetic polymath, Doxiadis launched his career overseeing postwar reconstruction in Greece after WWII. Through involvement in the United Nations he developed an extensive international network of contacts concerned with urban development.

Robert Goodspeed | July 9, 2007, 2pm PDT
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I recently discovered the Greek urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis (1913-1975) through a biographical sketch by Ray Bromley in a collection of essays. An energetic polymath, Doxiadis launched his career overseeing postwar reconstruction in Greece after WWII. Through involvement in the United Nations he developed an extensive international network of contacts concerned with urban development.

In 1951 he founded a consulting company in Athens, and by 1963 Doxiadis Associates had offices on five continents and projects in 40 countries. His firm's work ranged from designs for individual buildings to campus plans, large-scale studies of urban growth, and even plans for entirely new cities. Doxiadis also founded a technical institute in Athens, and published widely on the topic of the function and structure of human settlements, a field he termed "Ekistics." During his life he became something of an international celebrity, bringing together intellectuals and political leaders for annual conferences in urban issues in Greece.

His fame has faded since his death of Lou Gehrig's disease in 1975, and Bromley rightfully critiques the realism and impact of some of his plans and theories. His most famous idea is perhaps the ecumenopolis - the theory that cities would fuse to become one single worldwide city at some point in the far future.

Despite his flaws, one cannot help but be struck by the comprehensiveness of his vision and his success in stimulating interest in urban development. While the field of architecture can name dozens of starchitects, one is hard-pressed to name a contemporary well-known planner -- particularly with a global orientation. In today's 'planet of slums' (to use Mike Davis' term) where we face severe poverty, pollution, and resource management crises, we need big thinkers as much as ever. If we hope to achieve sustainability, we must be able to envision the solutions not simply as theories but cities and regions livable for all.

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