We are living on a suburban planet. While the majority of humans around the world now call some form of urban habitat their home, most of us live, work and play in environments that would not usually be recognized as the traditional city. Instead, we find ourselves at the edge of town. This has consequences both for the way we live and govern ourselves, how we plan and build housing and infrastructure and how we write the history, geography and theory of urban life.2
There is no longer such a thing as suburbanization, understood as a peripheral accretion in a center-dominated urban process. (…) If being urban is increasingly the shared condition of our humanity, for many if not most of us, this takes place in what we would recognise as a suburban space. (…) More and more the world comes to the suburbs and so the suburbs are, more and more, the world: the periphery is not peripheral.3
In the late 1960s, oil exploration was moving further and further from land, deeper and deeper into the bedrock of continental margins. From a modest beginning in 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore oil production, still less than a million tons in 1954, had grown to close to 400 million tons. Oil drilling equipment was already going as far as 4,000 metres below the ocean surface. The oceans were being exploited as never before. Activities unknown barely two decades earlier were in full swing around the world. (…) It was late 1967 and the tranquillity of the sea was slowly being disrupted by technological breakthroughs, accelerating and multiplying uses, and a super-Power rivalry that stood poised to enter man’s last preserve – the seabed. (…)
On 1 November 1967, Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Arvid Pardo, asked the nations of the world to look around them and open their eyes to a looming conflict that could devastate the oceans, the lifeline of man’s very survival. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he spoke of the super-Power rivalry that was spreading to the oceans, of the pollution that was poisoning the seas, of the conflicting legal claims and their implications for a stable order and of the rich potential that lay on the seabed.
Pardo ended with a call for “an effective international regime over the seabed and the ocean floor beyond a clearly defined national jurisdiction”. “It is the only alternative by which we can hope to avoid the escalating tension that will be inevitable if the present situation is allowed to continue”, he said.
Pardo’s urging came at a time when many recognized the need for updating the freedom-of-the-seas doctrine to take into account the technological changes that had altered man’s relationship to the oceans. It set in motion a process that spanned 15 years and saw the creation of the United Nations Seabed Committee, the signing of a treaty banning nuclear weapons on the seabed, the adoption of the declaration by the General Assembly that all resources of the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction are the common heritage of mankind and the convening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. What started as an exercise to regulate the seabed turned into a global diplomatic effort to regulate and write rules for all ocean areas, all uses of the seas and all of its resources. These were some of the factors that led to the convening of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, to write a comprehensive treaty for the oceans.4
2 Keil, Roger, and Lucy Lynch. ‘Suburban Change Is Transforming City Life around the World’. The Conversation, 2019. https://theconversation.com/suburban-change-is-transforming-city-life-around-the-world-125598.
3 Keil, Roger. ‘Welcome to the Suburban Revolution’. In Suburban Constellations. Gouvernance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century, edited by Roger Keil, 8–15. Berlin: jovis Verlag GmBH, 2013.
4 United Nation. ‘The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (A Historical Perspective)’. The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nation, 2012. https://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_historical_perspective.htm.