Urbanization through Ocean Channels: an emergent spatial model

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientific


In a radical change of urban perspective, this paper shifts the sea into the geographical and conceptual foreground as a spatial realm; a vital ecological unit, an integrated, yet distinct cultural “territory” and the site of unfolding urbanization processes. Examples are drawn from research in the Barents, Baltic and North Seas, - the latter two marginal seas of the Atlantic Ocean- however I argue that the conceptual frameworks and methodology are relevant for ongoing Atlantic research. Part One of this paper introduces the inherent spatial, cultural and ecological dimensions of the ocean, independent of land-side dynamics, hence a foundation for understanding the ocean as a unit of analysis is constructed. The second part argues that the relationship between ocean space and urbanization processes involves two reciprocal developments; Firstly the stretching of urban systems across the global ocean as transport networks, physical infrastructure, temporary energy installations and management frameworks, each forging land-based Cartesian coordinates through this liquid terrain. Secondly, the invisibility of the resulting urban indicators – which are porous, periodic, dispersed and challenge our inherited ideas of the “urban” as a bounded space of dense social and material interactions. However contemporary urban theory argues for an expanded understanding of urbanization processes, including the city’s hinterlands and seemingly natural areas which have been “operationalized” for productive purposes (Brenner & Schmid 2011). Hence urban & oceanic systems have merged in unprecedented and contradictory ways; the ocean itself is an active agent, while the extension of urban systems has altered the ocean’s very internal composition. These conclusions form the basis for a proposed relational definition of ocean territory. Part Three discusses how the urbanized ocean provides new opportunities to challenge 20th century analytic orthodoxies through descriptive cartography, geographic urbanism and the alignment of ecological and community boundaries. In response to the call for South Atlantic theory-building research, Part Four introduces the non-Western natural/cultural spatial model of the Pacific Ocean- a reversal of the Western solid and void. Here the space of the sea, rather than the land, is endowed with the highest social status, sacred knowledge, richly productive seascapes and the currents of spiritual life, offering lessons to the challenges we face in our own relations to the ocean.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMariners, Symposium Renegades, and Capitalism
Subtitle of host publicationResearching the Urban Atlantic for the Coming Century
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventMariners, Renegades, and Capitalism: : Researching the Urban Atlantic for the Coming Century - New York University, New York, United States
Duration: 27 Apr 201828 Apr 2018


ConferenceMariners, Renegades, and Capitalism:
CountryUnited States
CityNew York
Internet address


  • Ocean urbanisation
  • extended urbanisation
  • cartography
  • Pacific Ocean


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