Urban Planning & Technology

A very nice article from New Geography about the intersection.

An excerpt.

Few factors have had a greater impact on recent urban growth than communications technology (ICT) and property investment strategies. The evolution of both is transforming space and social interaction at an unprecedented pace and depth, with mixed results. As these maturing forces are increasingly taken for granted, the next generation of urban growth should accommodate them in ways that preserve urban vitality and citizen livelihoods.

The jetpack that wasn’t

The impacts of ICT on urban life have been examined primarily in two realms: government operations and citizen-user lifestyles. With several decades of modern technology absorbed into urban life, it is now possible to longitudinally examine the impacts of ICT in both its functional and social dimensions.

In the mid-20th century, simple technologies supported the minutiae of city operations in ways that now seem mundane: stoplight sequencing, emergency response, utilities management, etc. After decades of innovation, technology is now a broader and more integral part of urban governance, from design to operations. For example, ICT’s value in aiding growth projection continues to be explored through highly sophisticated systems such as UrbanSim, which is being used by several cities around the world. What was once the concern only of technocrats – and the muse of Popular Science magazine – is now the recipient of large budget appropriations and a common topic for discussions about inter-urban competitiveness.

Beyond operations, ICT has also restructured urban social interaction in both planned and unexpected ways; these are expressed in particular through changes in the physical environment. One example is the book retail industry, for which virtual markets have caused catastrophic impacts. For example, Barnes and Noble provided proxy community gathering spaces where people of varying ages and interests interacted. Aimless and leisurely perusing created a shared atmosphere of curiosity and exploration. However, many such stores are now bankrupt, replaced by an online shopping medium that eliminates the need for face-to-face interaction. A vestige of community life may have perished as a result.

Urban planners should be concerned about the socio-physical impacts of these transformations. As society withdraws into virtual realms, ICT exerts both convergent and divergent effects. The former allows people in dispersed locations to rally around a common interest, political cause, or commercial pursuit. It bridges cultures and geographies, and “flattens” the world in ways already amply studied. At the same time, ICT can splinter interests and fragment shared identities. There is little consensus about this matter, with some studies arguing that online media diminishes social skills and increases isolation, and others arguing that it has a positive correlation with “civic engagement” and tightens familial ties. Regardless, as social and commercial activity is virtualized there remains the chance that that place-based affinities – expressed, for example, by patronage of local enterprises – will gradually erode. Despite their virtues, “online communities” are still fundamentally a-spatial constructs. What is begun there often must be executed in person, underscoring the continued relevance of public space.

The long-term transformative effects of ICT cannot yet be fully appraised in part because technology uptake is rapid and unpredictable. Nevertheless, in one aspect – urban design – a synergy has emerged between bricks-and-mortar merchants and planners, in reaction to virtualization. Their complementary efforts, when successful, imbue commercial space with interaction-based vitality. The human instinct for sociability further supports these efforts, evidence that there is no substitute for many of the benefits cities offer. Lives are arguably better in proximity, a point supported by decades of agglomeration and anthropological research. The challenge for planners, therefore, is to create space for meaningful experiences inimitable in the virtual realm.

Retrieved July 15, 2015 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/004986-revisiting-two-forces-modern-urban-transformation

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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