Identifying and employing the concept of sustainability in the social sciences remain a challenge. One approach presented here emphasizes its utility in examining past urban adaptations primarily from the archaeological record that demonstrate the role of low-density urbanism. Drawing upon early semitropical cities and their dispersed land-use and settlement patterns, both longevity and interconnectivity are shown to have developed in the context of environmental and societal diversity. The impact of climate change to our near-term futures can result in adaptations that accommodate positive societal transformations if all relevant disciplines are included in the dialogue. Past sustainable practices when melded with thoughtfully deployed technologies of today and tomorrow will assist with this new ecology. We argue that generating knowledge about tropical urban systems in the ancient past adds to a more diversified pool of urban models from which to draw for future urban planning. We specifically suggest that networked urban systems of distributed, low-density settlement repeatedly occurring throughout the tropical archaeological records have several social–environmental benefits toward a sustainability transition of cities in the era of climate change.
Read the article in The Anthropocene Review.