© 2013 Miro Roman

Barcelona Extension – Ildefons Cerdà – 1859

from: The five bases of the General theory of Urbanization by Ildefons Cerda

Why he discarded the term city

So what name should he give to “this vast swir·ling” ocean that he wanted to transform into the subject of a new theory? He devoted many dispersed pages to this issue. We have grouped them here, since they allow ~£s appreciate to what extent his choice of the Latin word urbs as a root that would serve to create a series of neologisms, was the result of a long search and of a fair amount of soul-searching. However; our grm£ping of texts has one disadvantage. Since some are later than the invention of the neologisms with which concern us, they appear with no prior definition.

The term that Cerda initially thought of to designate the subject of the new theory was ciudad {city}, which is what he used in his first writings on urban planning (1855, MAEB), and in the title of his first work with any theoretical ambitions, the 1859 Theory of City Building, mentioned above. But the word city, as he explained some years later, did not totally satisfy him since it was an amphibological term, particularly bearing in mind its Latin origin, civitas.

From the {Latin}word civis {citizen} comes civitas {city}, a collective name that, in its origin, meant nothing more than the sum of the inhabitants of Rome and also of all the prerogatives and distinctions inherent in the use of the title “citizen”. We find it used in both of these senses by the most ancient and purely Latin of authors. However, over the course of time, the content and container must have become mixed up and considered as a single entity. And since then, the word civitas is used to signify either the collectivity of the citizens, or the group of buildings in which this collectivity is sheltered, or finally, the two collectivities of dwellers and dwellings considered as forming a single object. (1867, TGU, I, 485)

One proof that civitas as a derivation of civis was originally applied only to designate the gathering of citizens or the customary or legal prerogatives annexed to the title of citizen, is that all the nouns and verbs which spring from the same origin have an acceptation analogous to the one we are discussing. These include civilis or civicus, civil, civilitas, and the modern verb to civilise, all of which which have within their meaning a moral sense referring to man, his acts and customs, without any of them offering the slightest relation to the materiality of the buildings. (1867, TGU, I, 486)

On the other hand, in Spanish the word ciudad had a meaning that clashed with Cerda’s aims of providing a term as general as the theory that he proposed to develop, and which wmdd be equally applicable to small settlements or major built-up areas.

In ancient days, in official and even in common language, … the city represented the first administrative, political, and social hierarchy. The city was the centre of civil and political administration of an extended region or area that included various townships, towns, villages, and hamlets. Sometimes, during the middle ages, the city had its own dominions and exercised within them, and within as many groups of building as were enclaved within them, a jurisdiction oflordship, ownership and occasionally of sovereignty. In earlier times, it was fairly frequent for the city to have its own unique civil laws, which gave it real and genuine autonomy, in the rigorous sense in which the Greeks used this word. With all these distinctions granted the collectivity, the aboriginal families and individuals, if we may call them that, came to enjoy privileges of nobility;
even when it was not laid down in law, they decked themselves out with the garb of a certain nobility by using the resounding title of citizen which, in imitation of the ancient Romans, they assumed with pride. (1867, TGU, I, 476)

The Latin root urbs and its transformation into Spanish as urbe

And after taking up and dropping many simple and compound terms in succession, I was forced to recall the word ‘urbs, which due to the fact that it never left Latium and was not passed on to those peoples who adopted its language -doubtless because it had been reserved by overbearing, dominating Rome as a nobility title of preeminence- lent itself more easily to my purpose, and was able to provide me with some virgin derivative, if I may call it that, proper and suited to my idea, as new as that subject to which I wished to apply it … (1867, TGU, I, 29)

With his habitual painstaking thorcmghness, he examined the use of the term urbs in Latin and the sense of its derivatives:

Since the genuine sense of urbs referred principally to the material part of the grouping of buildings, for all matters referring to the inhabitants [the Romans] used the word civis (citizen), from which they derived all the terms intended to express things, objects, happenstance, and qualities concerning the dwellers. The word urban us (from urbe) referred to matters concerning the material grouping of the urb: so it was that the citizens never called themselves urban, because the root word did not allow for such an application. So much so that, when they simply wanted to express the idea of the inhabitant of an urb, leaving aside his quality of citizen, … they used the word ~~rbicola, that is to say, urb-dweller. Later on urbanus and urbanitas, urban and urbanity, came to have a moral acceptation, analogous if not identical to civilis and civilitas. But this was, by extension, the effect of a tacit comparison between the customs or culture of the inhabitants of the rus (countryside) -whom they called rustici {rustics}, which gave rise to rusticitas, rustic and rusticity- and
the dwellers of the urbs, who always styled themselves more cultivated and more civilised. So urbanus as well as urbanitas, by virtue of their genuine, etymological meaning, referred essentially to things and people concerned with the material part of the grouping of buildings. That is why it was observed that this true and genuine meaning of urbanus and its derivatives, while it was kept pure among the most ancient authors, degenerated as the distances separating it from the use and the time of its primitive origins grew. (1867, TGU, I, 505-506)

As for the fate that the word urbs suff ered in Romance languages, the curious fact did not escape Cerda that Spanish

has, until now, admitted only the nouns derived from it, while relegating to oblivion the root word, doubtless because of the harshness of its sound. (1867, TGU, I, 485)

One of those derivatives of urbs then in use in Spanish was suburbia {suburb}:

common, and more especially, official usage having admitted the word suburb, which is a compound of urb, it is a sore point that the latter should not have been hispanicized, for in both official and common language it would have spared the use of circumlocutory phrases which anyone who wants to express the idea of an unqualified group of buildings or dwellings finds himself forced to use, that is, without specifying, with the word used, whether it is what is called a city, township, town, place, or village. (1867, TGU, I, 471-472)

But to judge from all the signs, Cerda himself approached urbs in just the way he pointed md: first he used the derivatives and then he got interested in the root. In fact, around 1860-61 he replaced the cumbersome appendage “of the city” with the concise adjective “m·ban” and he started talking, for example, of “urban” viality or salubrity (GARCiA-BELLIDO, 1994b). Around the same period, he invented a derivative of this same adjective, the verb urbanizar {to urbanize}, and only some years later – in his General Theory of Ur-banization of 1867- did he use the ter-m urb systematically and with a precise meaning. However, since the logic of invention is one thing and that of exposition another, we shall address the concept of urb before that of urbanization for greater clarity of exposition.

So, having invented the words urbanize and urbanization, he realised how appropriate or necessary it was to hispanicize the root urbs, giving it the for-m urbe, which apparently had never been used before, either- in Spanish or in other European languages:

Ur-be derives from or rather, is the Latin urbs, from the genitive of which, urbis, the ablative urbe is generated. This forms the hispanicized word that we have used with this same desinence or ending, following the general and constant use of our romance language 5. (1867, TGU, I, 504)

In addition to his own testimony, there is further evidence that it was Cerda who put the word urb into circulation among us: the fact that while the adjective urbano {urban} was already recor-ded from the 15th centur-y (COROMINAS y PASCUAL, 1980-83), the substantive noun urbe {ur-b} did not appear- in Spanish encyclopaedias until the end of the 19th century and, even then, in quotation marks and italicised, as a term not yet common (LODARES, 1989, 64). In fact, the Dictiona1·y of the Royal Spanish Academy did not incorporate it until1925.

The curious cir-cumstance that there was no Spanish translation or equivalent of urbs at that time, while there were several derivatives of that Latin ter-m, may have made rapid acceptance of the neologisms that he coined from that root easier. On the other hand, such more or- less common der-ivatives shared one common featur-e, namely that, as occurs in Latin, almost all r-eferred to “qualities and circumstances and happenstances proper to the groups of combined buildings” (1867, TGU, I, 504).

The functional concept of urb

Although the word urbe in Spanish is now reserved for major cities Cerda introduced the ter-m with a very differ-ent purpose, that of expr-essing

simply and generically a group of buildings with no specific relationship to its size, which is of almost total indifference for the application of the fundamental principles of urbanization, nor to its hierarchy, since urbanizing science can recognise none … (1867, TGU, I, 30-31)

Or, as he said elsewhere,

Urb, for us, is therefore not a city, township, town, place, village or burgh, corral, stable or homestead, cluster, ranch or encampment, but encompasses within its vast meaning every limited or numerous group, small or large, of luxurious or miserable dwellings, of masonry or of simple matting, from the haughtiest city to the humblest encampment, in which, in addition to being linked through the connections of common viality, the dwellings maintain among themselves those relations proper to the shelter of the rational being, even when these dwellings are not worthy of him. This is the case of so many which are found, not necessarily in the deserts of Africa, but even -to the greater shame of humanity- in the very centre of those urban groups in which the advances of modern civilisation are proclaimed with utmost ostentatiousness. (1867, TGU, I, 481)

Unlike many other contemporary and later urbanists who focused their attention on the great cities since it was there that the problems of industrial civilisation manifested most acutely, Cerda aimed to develop a theory valid for any grouping of buildings, and for this he needed to define a concept applicable to all. This enthusiasm for universality led him to postulate that j~~st two shelters, providing mutual assistance, already constit~~te an urb. (1867, TGU, I, 44J

He repeated many times that the essence of an urb is far removed from its size, and since the current {Spanish} concept ofurb is very different from his own, it bears repetition here:

For us, an urb of ten hectares is as worthy of consideration as one of ten thousand. All are urbs. All give shelter to humanity, and it only remains to wish that it were equally well treated within all. (1867, TGU, I, 249)

For Cerda, there is an urb whenever its inhabitants provide each other with “reciprocal assistance or services”. That is why he defined the urb as

any grouping of dwellings in which various families live, whatever their number, associated through the feeling of common and reciprocal assistance … (1867, TGU, I, 201)

While number matte1·ed little for these purposes, shape was no mm·e important, because although the root urbs alluded to the materiality of the city, he was interested in going a little beyond that:

my purpose was not to express this materiality, but rather the manner and system that these groups follow in forming, and how all the elements that constitute them are organised and then function. That is to say, that in addition to materiality, I needed to express the organism, the life, if I may call it such, which animates the material part … (1867, TGU, I, 29)

The fact that his vision was more functional 7 than formal was highlighted in the most extreme manner when he commented that in each era, c~~lture, and place, urbanization adopted different forms and he concluded:

For urbanization, form is nothing; adequate and perfect satisfaction of human needs is everything. (1867, TGU, I, 50)

As he emphasised the manner of functioning, he had no difficulty in also considering as an urb

the grouping of dwellings formed by ships in which, as happens in some parts of China, a large number of families live, communicate and provide reciprocal services, leading the same life there that they might lead in a fixed grouping of houses, solidly constructed and in reciprocal combination … (1867, TGU, I, 202)

Moreover, as long as he was being consistent with the definition, it was also fulfilled by

war fleets or armadas, in the same way as … mercantile convoys, since in both, families and individuals are also sheltered more or less permanently, united by the common feeling of providing each other reciprocal services. These urbs stand out … by the fact that they are mobile and locomotor … What is special about armadas or maritime convoys is that, since communications between one vessel and another cannot be considered secure to be effected at will, each is provided with everything needed to be self-sufficient, that is to say, sufficient for all its dwellers. Hence communications between vessels are rare, except in cases of need, or when, while they are under sail, a calm spell sentences them to immobility, in which case they even make recreational visits from one dwelling to another. (1867, TGU, I, 204)

In line with this functional rather than formal vision of the urb which he expounded in his General Theory of Urbanization, he considered it not an end in itself, but a means; the urb was “the inst?’·ument in which life is to be spent” (1867, TGU, I, 511), or an “instrument of social life”. (1867, TGU, I, 465)

But this same instn~mental or functional vision which led him to define the urb irrespective of its fm-m, size, or any administmtive notion, in order to focus attention on the reciprocal services and the relationships between its inhabitants, was what led him, on the other hand, to link this apparently abstract urb with territory ,for Cerda, as will now be seen, viewed the urb not as an isolated group of buildings b2d as a fragment of te1″ritory within which they are to be found .

… the settlement of an urb does not just include the physical place that it … occupies, but also embraces a more or less expanded circumference around it, which is what properly forms what we have called its field of operations …. Despite the tendencies that have reigned for some years, of concentrating and condensing the buildings into the smallest possible space, scarcely an urb will be found, however unimportant it might be, which does not have in its more or less immediate surroundings some buildings which are subsidiary to its urban life. (1867, TGU, I, 469)

Based on this functional vision which we are emphasising, he included within the urb its field of action:

in the ambit constituted by the totality of any urb that we might wish to examine, we are presented with three great divisions defined by urban action, which is exercised in inverse proportion to distance. Towards the periphery, there is what we call the region; next, closer to the centre we find the suburbs; and in the very centre, the urban core. These three things, distinct from each other, genuinely form what should be called an urb. (1867, TGU, I, 211)

Regarding the natural region and the administrative or conventional region, so highly emphasised later on, Ce1·da realised that they did not meet the needs of the new civilisation and redefined the region as the ”field of operations” or ”field of action” of the urb, a definition which implicitly contains all modern approaches of metropolitan or supramunicipal scope .

… it is not easy for natural and conventional regions to coincide .. Sometimes the genuine urban region, the natural field of action of an urb, goes beyond the limits of its jurisdiction 8 and has, of necessity, to extend to others, to the sehous detriment to urban life, as this gives rise to no small number of administrative disruptions. Since, up to now, no study has been made of what a field of settlement and of urban action is or should be, it therefore has no proper and appropriate name, since it lacks a concrete idea to refer to. The word termino {limit}, the only one we know, refers solely and exclusively to the administrative jurisdiction which was marked out many centuries ago, motivated by reasons quite different from those that should govern the staking out of a genuine field of action for each urb. We are giving it the name field of action or of ‘L~rban operations, because it meets the need of an urban collectivity to have such a field, in the same way that an individual also needs, as a complement to his dwelling, at the very least a courtyard in which to exercise a portion of the actions that do not fit within his shelter. (1867, TGU, I, 471)

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