New Stories From 'Urban Agriculture Notes'
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Urban Farming is Nothing New


Mayan and Axtec agrarian urbanism

Agro-urban landscapes: the example of Maya lowland cities

By Christian Isendahl
Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University
Antiquity. Volume: 86 Number: 334 Page: 1112–1125

The author sets out to explain why Maya cities are so dispersed, with a ceremonial core surrounded by spacious neighbourhoods. Using the case study of Xuch, and the judicious application of phosphate analysis, he shows that these were clusters of farmsteads, growing food. Tackling the apparent confrontation of town and country in the same settlement he urges us to reconsider ‘urbanism’ as being too narrow a term in archaeology.

Solutions that combine food production and ritual can be seen as increasingly diverse. The paper provides valuable reflections for archaeologists studying settlement evolution the world over.

Download the paper here.

Sustainable agrarian urbanism: The low-density cities of the Mayas and Aztecs

By Christian Isendahl and Michael E. Smith
Cities. July 2012

Maya and Aztec cities exhibited a distinctive kind of low-density urbanism common in ancient Mesoamerica. The non-monumental components of these cities differed from the high-density ancient and historical cities in the Old World that are often considered the norm for pre-modern urbanism. Distinctive features include the practice of intensive agricultural cultivation within urban settlements, residential zones that were dispersed and unplanned, and the arrangement of houses into spatial clusters that served as urban neighborhoods. The residential areas of Maya and Aztec cities resembled modern peri-urban zones and informal settlements. Because of the benefits of smallholder intensive urban agriculture, cities thrived for many centuries, and some were successful for millennia. On the basis of this longevity, we argue that these were sustainable cities, and their form and dynamics may hold lessons for understanding contemporary urbanization processes.

Download the paper here.