row boat and shoreline scene in Richmond BC
Richmond, BC, Canada. Image courtesy of the Author.

7. The development and renewal of settlements is a continuous process. If it stops, conditions for its death are created, but how long it will take depends on many factors.

The word settlement is often used to describe a physical product, a ‘thing’ in itself, or a collection of ‘things’ (i.e. buildings). Now, more than ever before however, it is clear that settlements are processes: a series of actions created by a diversity of people that yields material ‘things’ in space. What we experience as a settlement day-to-day is a (seemingly) static moment in a dynamic process of necessary and continuous change. This is echoed by Janet Abu-Lughod in “The Islamic City: Historical Myths, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance” as she describes the socio-cultural processes that affected the creation of traditional Islamic urban form. “A city at one point in time is a still photograph of a complex system of building and destroying, of organizing and reorganizing, and so on.” She concludes: “Cities are processes, not products” (Abu-Lughod, 1987, p. 172). This applies to all settlements.

Well-known urbanist Kevin Lynch speaks well to this in his attempts to capture the various aspects of settlement form as: “…solely the inert physical thing? Or the living organisms too? The actions people engage in? The social structure? The economic system? The ecological system? The control of the space and its meaning? The way it presents itself to the senses? Its daily and seasonal rhythms? Its secular changes?” (Lynch,  1981, p. 48) He ultimately describes settlements as “…the spatial arrangement of persons doing things, the resulting spatial flows of persons, goods, and information, and the physical features which modify space in some way significant to those actions, including enclosures, surfaces, channels, ambiences and objects. Further, the description must include the cyclical and secular changes in those spatial distributions, the control of space and the perception of it” (Lynch, p. 48).

As a result, if the process of settlement stops, conditions that can lead to its death ensue. However, the amount of time required for a settlement to die varies greatly—depending on a diversity of factors, discussed later in Extinction (Laws 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21).

Regardless, the inability to understand settlements as processes of continual change has many important implications. For example, the perception that a settlement is the sole result of static physical ‘objects’ such as houses, schools, or cars, can lead to false expectations, errors in judgement, and flawed attempts to prevent change from occurring. Worse still, it can prevent measures that foster the successful and/or healthy development of a settlement. The worst cases of NIMBYism fall under this category.


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Janet Abu-LughodThe Islamic City: Historical Myths, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance” in International Journal of Middle East Studies (1987)
  • Kevin LynchGood City Form
  • Jane JacobsThe Nature of Economies
  • Stewart BrandHow Buildings Learn


8. The survival of a settlement is greatly influenced by its geography and role within its larger co-dependent system.

Whether a settlement thrives or falters is greatly affected by its geography and relationship to other settlements within its larger co-dependent system (Law 0). As summarized by Constantino Doxiadis: “As with all living organisms, the capacity of a settlement for survival depends mainly on its ability to meet competition with similar species…in the same space” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 292).

Jared Diamond’s convincing argument describing how geography and the conditions favouring agriculture led to the birth of a number of civilizations has already been referred to in Law 1. The evolution of certain medieval towns as strong Renaissance cities due to their geographical locations—like those at the intersection of important trade routes, as described by Henri Pirenne in Medieval Cities—is another example.

A popular contemporary case is the decline of the North American “Main Street” whereby a large number of local commercial ‘high streets’ that had evolved in response to old modes of transportation (walking, train, water, etc.) began to decline with the growing popularity of cars, the creation of highways and development of large-scale regional shopping malls.

The aggressive growth of global urban branding initiatives that seek to attract travellers and tourists from around the globe to specific cities is also a powerful modern example. In fact, many tend to use geography as one of the many incentives to lure people to their doorsteps.


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Jared DiamondGuns, Germs and Steel
  • Henri PirenneMedieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade
  • James Howard KunstlerThe Geography of Nowhere
  • Rem KoolhaasGSD Project on the City II – Guide to Shopping


9. The total investment across all facets of settlement life—economic, social, cultural, etc.—depends on the role it plays within the larger co-dependent settlement system, and the forces being placed on it by this system.

In an age of urban branding and rampant city-building, it is certainly no surprise that investment in a settlement is based on its role within its larger co-dependent system (Law 0). Although focus often tends to be on the economic or cultural engines of nations—such as New York, Hong Kong, London and Barcelona—it’s important to remember that there is an extremely wide range of settlement types. From Resort Municipalities (such as Whistler, BC) to Themed Towns (such as Leavenworth in Washington), each built environment plays a different role in their respective areas.

More recently, Paul Knox notes the contemporary growth of new roles for cities in light of globalization. These roles include being nodes for “transnational corporate organization, international banking and finance, supranational government, and the work of international agencies” (Knox, 2014, p. 13). Echoes of the latter are found in Keller Easterling’s Extrastatecraft that describes the proliferation of ‘free zone’ cities created to jump-start the economies of developing nations through the creation of incentives offered by non-local authorities.

Given the scalar nature of settlements highlighted in Law 0, roles are also affected by their scale. In larger settlements, such as cities, different roles can be seen at district, neighbourhood, and street scales. Thus, we see commercial districts, tourist nodes and ethnic clusters, each drawing their own particular forms of investment from inside and outside sources.

Interestingly, Doxiadis highlights that in a balanced condition (Law 21), the total investment across all spheres of life within the settlement often corresponds to the total income of its inhabitants. This, he continues, is in equilibrium with the costs needed for food, clothing, education, etc. He recognizes, however, that this isn’t always the case where new and/or abandoned areas are being (re)developed. In these circumstances, extensive investment is often required at the outset.

The past few decades, in particular, have seen the proliferation of this condition in places such as China and United Arab Emirates. This is particularly well-described in Stephen Graham’s Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers and Thomas J. Campanella’s The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World. It is important to note, however, that the extent of investment is based on the actual or perceived potential of each settlement, as well as its ability to respond to all the forces that are being exerted on it by the larger system.


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Paul KnoxAtlas of Cities
  • Keller EasterlingExtrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space
  • Stephen GrahamVertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers
  • Thomas J. CampanellaThe Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World


10. The values created in a settlement, in addition to the initial needs leading to its creation, act as ‘secondary forces’ contributing to its speedier development; or in case of depression, they slow down or even arrest and reverse its decline. The process is continual, adding different forces intermittently over the lifetime of a settlement.

Could a settlement survive the decline of the initial needs and forces that led to its creation? Definitely. The countless settlements that have survived across centuries of change socially, culturally and technologically, speak to this. Rome, Athens, Jericho, Jerusalem, Varansi (India), and Luoyang (China) are just a few. This occurs due to the development of different roles that settlements develop over time.

Doxiadis describes a theoretical example of a harbour town that develops a strong timber shipbuilding industry, and whose harbour begins to suffer from competition by a nearby settlement. In response, the initial harbour town continues to survive as an industrial town focused on building steel ships—an industry that developed out of the initial timber boat-building activities.

Contemporary examples include the many cities that have given up their industrial tethers for being safe-havens for global capital and speculation—Vancouver, Canada perhaps being a poster child of this process. In these cases, settlement transformations often result in the destruction, replacement and/or re-development of the infrastructure and buildings associated with the earlier outdated uses.

This dynamic process is continuous across the lifetime of a settlement (Law 7 and Law 22). As such, ‘secondary’ forces are not the endpoint—tertiary, quaternary, quinary forces, and so on, can develop. The number of additional forces is potentially limitless, as is evident by the ancient settlements that remain active today. The effects of this process have the potential to increase the speed of development and investment, as well as slow down or reverse decline. Henri Pirenne’s seminal work outlining the ‘direct continuation of the economy of the Roman Empire” via trading through settlements around the Mediterranean Sea after the decline of the Empire, is a case in point.


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Paul KnoxAtlas of Cities
  • Henri PirenneMedieval Cities: Their Origins and The Revival of Trade
  • Lewis MumfordThe City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects


11. In a growing system of settlements the chances are that the largest settlements will grow faster than the others.

Doxiadis considers this a “basic law of dynamic systems” based on his initial research showing that “the larger ones attract greater and more functions and grow more than others.” Since that time, more research and energy has been put towards exploring this idea. A recent example lies in the research of physicist Geoffrey West around the mathematical scaling laws governing different organisms, including cities. Succinctly summarizing his findings in his 2011 TedTalk “The surprising math of cities and corporations” he states that doubling the size of a particular settlement increases all facets of economic activity (income, construction, etc.) by approximately 15%” (West, 2011, 12:07). That is, cities scale “superlinearly” with respect to socio-economic quantities.

According to his findings, the law is universal, transcending culture and location. In his words “….the bigger you are the more you have per capita, unlike biology—higher wages, more super-creative people per capita as you get bigger, more patents per capita, more crime per capita….If you double the size of a city from 100,000 to 200,000, from a million to two million, 10 to 20 million, it doesn’t matter, then systematically you get a 15 percent increase in wages, wealth, number of AIDS cases, number of police, anything you can think of. It goes up by 15 percent….” (West, 2011, 11.34).

West’s most recent book, Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies, summarizes his findings and applies his insights on the laws of scaling—that is, how complex systems respond as they change in size—to systems beyond cities and settlements.


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Geoffrey WestScale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies


12. The per capita cost of a settlement’s infrastructure decreases in relation to the size of the settlement – the doubling the size of a particular settlement decreases the cost of infrastructure by approx. 15%)

This is one of the laws that Doxiadis got incorrect, according to recent research. I’ve rewritten it, accordingly. Although all of his laws were based on his exhaustive research, the limitations of information and data at the time required that certain principles of his be based on “common sense,” and this was one of them. His initial convictions stated that “The per capita cost of a settlement increases (other conditions, such as income, being equal) in proportion to the services provided by it and the number of its inhabitants” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 293).

Recent research has shown, however, that increasing the size of settlements decreases the costs associated with it, specifically around infrastructure. The research of Geoffrey West outlined in Law 11 speaks to this directly, stating that when a settlement doubles in size, it requires an increase in resources of only 85 percent—that is, “you have a 15 percent savings on the infrastructure” (West, 2011, 11:34).

In contrast to socio-economic quantities cited in Law 11, settlements scale ‘sublinearly’ when applied to infrastructure. So, “a city of 10 million people typically needs 15 percent less of the same infrastructure compared with two cities of 5 million each, leading to significant savings in materials and energy use” (West, 2011, NEED TO FIND! )This is one of the many reasons why dense cities are often labelled more ‘sustainable’ than their less dense counterparts.


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):



  • Geoffrey WestScale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies


13. Settlements are in a constant state of adaptation and, as such, time is a factor necessary for the development of settlements and is physically expressed within them.

Issues around time are implicitly or explicitly stated in virtually all of Doxiadis’ laws. However, this one speaks to the relationship between time and its physical expression within a human settlement. More specifically, he suggests that despite the fact that settlements are dynamic (Law 7 and Law 22), they are often planned as “static” entities, with limited considerations of future conditions. As such, the physical changes made to a settlement embody earlier assumptions made by its inhabitants.

Doxiadis uses the example of highways designed for projected future capacities. In this case, dimensions of time are embedded in the physical fabric of the highway—its width, for example. As time passes, decisions are made in response to those earlier design solutions.

In Street Fight, Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow describe the process of “re-reading” existing streets and, in doing so, being able to ”reallocate the space already there—no expensive reconstruction required.” Critically analysing the standard twelve-foot lanes common to North American cities and based on federal highway guidelines, they conclude that the “model street alone may contain more than twenty feet of excess road space not actually needed to move or park vehicles. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of miles of lanes in thousands of urban areas around the world and you’ll find millions of miles of sidewalks, bus and bike lanes, and public spaces—entire cities—trapped within our streets” (Sadik-Khan & Solomonow, 2016, p. 50-51).

Layers of time become more complex as settlements become older. In Barcelona, for example, remnants of the ancient Roman settlement of Barcino remain etched within the contemporary urban fabric. The contemporary city, thus, evolved in response to many of the initial design decisions that structured the early city. This includes a variety of elements, from street orientation to the dimensions of open spaces, as explained so well in Manuel de Solà-Morales’ Ten Lessons on Barcelona.

By no means is this only evident in old settlements. Even younger ones have a temporal fingerprint. In Dream City, for example, Lance Berelowitz describes how the glass towers of Vancouver, Canada resulted from the initial lot and block sizes that have their logic in seventeenth-century surveying practices based on the ‘rod’ and ‘chain’.

Similarly, in his brilliant book Los Angeles Boulevards: Eight X-rays of the Body Public, Doug Suisman describes how the broad structure of the boulevards in Los Angeles are a consequence of historical circumstances and boundaries of early Spanish settlement patterns rooted in the Laws of the Indies.

Interestingly, the long-term results of this process—as cycles of creation, destruction, obsolescence, replacement and transformation accrete over time—is often the creation of a ‘manufactured ground’. As Stephen Graham highlights in Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers, “Over centuries, large cities thus literally rise up on ground of their own making. They build their own geology and move up to levels considerably beyond that created by ‘natural’ stratigraphy…The surface of Rome, which hides many complete ancient worlds, has been built up as much as 15 metres (50 feet) in the last 2,000 years” (Graham, 2016, p. 294).


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Manuel de Solà-Morales Ten Lessons On Barcelona
  • Lance BerelowitzDream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination
  • Dora P. Crouch Spanish City Planning in North America
  • Stephen GrahamVertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers
  • John Reps The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States
  • Janette Sadik-Khan & Seth SolomonowStreet Fight: Handbook for the Urban Revolution
  • Anthony E.J. MorrisHistory of Urban Form: Before the Industrial Revolution
  • Serge SalatCities and Forms: On Sustainable Urbanism


14. Considerations around speed are indispensable to the understanding and design of settlements.

Speed and time (Law 13) are inherently related. This is clear in their scientific definition: Time=Distance x Speed. This law—worded quite differently than the original put forth by Doxiadis—speaks specifically to the effects of speed on the perception and design of human settlements. That the experience of moving through a settlement is worth consideration was perhaps most popularly captured in the 20th century in Gordon Cullen’s The Concise Townscape. Cullen developed the concept of ‘Serial Vision’ and was interested in how people perceived the built environment. He argued that humans understood their surroundings through a “sequence of revelations” that juxtaposed current and emerging views as people moved through a settlement. This, in turn, influenced many others including Besim Hakim who used the same techniques in his thorough analysis of the village of Sidi Bou Sa’id in Tunisia.

Of course, this idea has much older roots, at least as far back as the Athenian Acropolis, where experiences along a guided and gradual procession culminating in the ancient citadel were intentionally created and deemed critical to the understanding of the architecture. Speaking to the main elements that led to the formation of the Periclean Acropolis, Robin Francis Rhodes writes “…there are indications that distinct qualities of procession were transferred directly to the architecture of the Archaic Acropolis, and that they eventually comprised one of the guiding principles of the unified, formalized building program of Pericles” (Rhodes, 1995, p. 44). Centuries later, this inspired Le Corbusier’s “promenade architecturale”.

Recent developments in transportation (automobiles, airplanes, etc.) have altered the perception of the city and, in turn, how it is shaped. Streets designed for horses are much different in size and proportions than those created for automobiles. This fact is clearly captured in Michael Southworth & Eran Ben-Joseph’s Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities that charts the transformation of streets over time.

Perhaps one of the earliest books engaging the subject of perception and speed in the contemporary city is View from the Road written by Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard. Within, they critically consider the visual experience from inside a fast-moving vehicle on a highway. With this in mind, Doxiadis cites how the ‘walking city’ results in a more detailed and tactile architecture, while something very different is created by highway urbanism devoid of “external street decoration.”

As a meaningful counterpoint, one can look at the super-sized decoration of the architecture and signs along the Las Vegas Strip—so well described by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s seminal book Learning From Las Vegas. Many of the everyday suburban commercial arterials use similar methods of engaging speed in contemporary settlements.

Present-day built environments are under more pressure than ever to meaningfully engage and understand issues around speed. The ever-increasing diversity of speeds with which people move horizontally and vertically in settlements is clear. Moreover, the wide range of movement technologies—from walking to driving, skateboards to drones, hoverboards to bicycles—all have their potential impact on settlements and experience. They, in turn, offer fertile ground for research, discovery, and exploration.


FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Gordon CullenThe Concise Townscape
  • Besim Selim HakimSidi Bou Sa’id, Tunisia: Structure and Form of a Mediterranean Village
  • Robin Francis RhodesArchitecture and Meaning on the Athenian Acropolis
  • Kevin LynchImage of the City
  • Kevin Lynch/Donald AppleyardView from the Road (VIDEO:
  • Robert Venturi & Denise Scott BrownLearning From Las Vegas
  • Michael Southworth & Eran Ben-JosephStreets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities
  • Stephen GrahamVertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers
  • Bernard TschumiRed is not a Colour
  • Peter Bosselman “Images in Motion” in Representation of Places: Reality and Realism in City Design
  • J.B. Jackson“The Stranger’s Path” In Landscape in Sight



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