Retracing Colonial Cities
Retracing Colonial Cities:Networks, Surveyors, Geographies, 1670-1770 by Benjamin Sacks
A seventeenth-century urban revolution, centered in the Low Countries and northern France, sought to use carefully-planned spatial organization as a means of enhancing economic productivity, defensibility, and social cohesion. Maps were the slate on which planners could experiment, share, reproduce, and erase. Dunkirk was in many ways typical of Flanders communities: port-focused, on soft, sea-level soil, with a large, vocal maritime population eager to protect itself. But its strategic position and economic vivacity stood out to early modern observers. Only forty-five miles from Britain (only Calais is closer), and ten miles from present-day Belgium, Dunkirk’s economy demonstrated a remarkable ability to survive conflict and blockade. Its transformation into a fortress and canal city under the auspices of visionary engineer Sébastien le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban, was part of a concerted plan not only to threaten France’s Protestant rivals - England and Holland - but also to envision the future French city. The maps included in this exhibit chronicle his and his protege Benjamin de Combes’ repeated efforts to expand Dunkirk, and follow the latter as he embarked on a global journey to reproduce ideas he first practiced at Dunkirk elsewhere in the fledgling French empire.