Humanities Salon returns with Past Futures: Angkor and the debate on sustainable low-density urbanism

22 March, 2011
Societies of every known socio-economic system and magnitude have used low density settlements patterns from dispersed hunter-gatherer camps to the industrial megalopolis. Between the late 1st millennium BCE and the mid 2nd millennium CE three regions in the tropics in Mesoamerica, South Asia and South-East Asia produced vast, agrarian-based, low-density urban settlements. The largest, situated in modern Cambodia, was Angkor. In the 12th and 13th C CE the urban complex of Greater Angkor covered about 1000 sq km. By the start of the 17th C it was largely abandoned and the entire former metropolitan heartland of the Khmer Empire reverted to forest and scattered village communities in an eerie repetition of the end of the Classic Maya urban societies of Yucatan in the 9th and 10th C and great Buddhist cities of northern Sri Lanka in the 12th and 13th C. The demise of tropical low density urbanism was apparently associated with serious regional decline involving the impact of severe climatic instability, extensive land clearance and dependence on massive infrastructure. After the 16th C agrarian-based, low-density urbanism largely disappeared. Only in the 20th C, following industrialisation, has low density urbanism reappeared, spectacularly represented by the East Coast Megalopolis of the USA and the rapidly expanding desakota of southern and eastern Asia. How might we gauge the implications of the profoundly different past from the unknown future of sustainable urbanism?

Professor Roland Fletcher,
Department of Archaeology and
Christophe Pottier,
Ecole Française d’Extrème Orient

Venue: Sydney Law School foyer, Eastern Avenue, Camperdown Campus.
Time: 6.00pm to 7.30pm

A joint presentation by the Sydney Humanities Salon and Sydney Ideas Open


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