What particular contributions did the Greeks make to the development of urban form? How did the Greek approach to city planning affect later urban development? The Greeks assisted the development of urban form with numerous imperative contributions, all of which promoted each other in succession. Firstly, there was the colonisation movement, which evolved as a result of urban growth pressure.
Greeks considered the optimum city population to be 30,000; once this figure was reached a new, completely independent city would be established at another location. These new colonies created the opportunity to move away from the organic city growth of traditional Greek cities and onto systematic urban planning. (Owen 2001:1) This involvement of the gridiron street plan is the second fundamental contribution made by the Greeks; the final point is, “the evolution of the twin foci of Greek cities – the acropolis as the religious centre and agora as the multi-purpose everyday heart (Morris 1994: 40).”
The aforementioned urban growth control began around 750BC as a method to stabilize city size; it was a process forced upon the Greeks as a result of resource deficiency and deliberate political decision rather than intellectual calculation. Every time the population surpassed a certain figure, an expedition embarked to create a new colony. For example, “Athens had some 40,000 inhabitants during the time of Pericles, and only three other cities, Syracuse, Agrigentum and Argos, possessed more than 20,000.
During the fifteenth century Syracuse reached the total of approximately 50,000 inhabitants by forcibly containing the populations of the cities it had conquered. There were only fifteen cities with a population of about 10,000, the number which was considered appropriate for a large city and which theorists advised against exceeding (Benevolo 1980: 57).” This enforced population boundary was not viewed as being restrictive; it was, “a necessary pre-condition for the orderly way of life (Benevolo 1980: 57).” The population had to be between a certain level of compromise; substantial enough to power an army, yet small enough to allow the smooth running of daily life and for citizens to interact knowledgeably with one another.
This development of city stabilisation wasn’t appreciated respectively over the subsequent centuries until the concept was re-evaluated by Ebenezer Howard in 1898, with his publication of Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of Tomorrow). (Morris 1994: 40) This revolutionary publication is widely regarded as a classic because, “…it has done more than any other single book to guide the modern town planning movement and to alter its objectives (Mumford 1945).” Howard’s concept of moving the excess population from the parent city to a new colony was based on the original Greek method; hence, not only did the Greeks generate the innovative colonisation approach to city building, but they also aided the basis of Howard’s new town notion. These are two very important contributions made by the Greeks towards urban development.
An additional contribution is the qualities featured throughout every Greek city – “unity, a lack of rigidity, the maintenance of balance with nature, stability of growth (Benevolo 1980: 60)” – and promoted by the colonisation movement, that has made the Greek city, “a valid model for all other urban developments (Benevolo 1980: 60).” First of all the unity of the Greek city will be considered. The city did not feature controlled or autonomous areas; it was valued as a united entity where houses only differed in size and not architectural technique. No area was specifically designated for certain class or family associates, and in extension of this realisation of individual liberty, there were particular areas where the population could assemble and affirm their rights.
Secondly, the Greek city was sectioned into three zones. “The private areas which were set aside for the inhabitants’ houses; the sacred areas, which contained the temples of the gods; and the public areas, used for political meetings, sport, commerce and theatre (Benevolo 1980: 60).” All public areas were maintained by the state, and it was the difference in purpose between the zones that was the most significant element. The penultimate quality related to the Greek city is its attachment to the natural environment as an artificial organism. The natural lines of the countryside were respected, and each city’s balance between art and nature enhanced unique its personality.