Executive Summary

Problem Description

Present State of Knowledge

Approach and Method

Modeling and Measuring the Information City

Information and Household Mobility in Cities and Metropolitan Areas

Telecommunications, Infrastructure, and the Environment

Information and Telecommunications Technology and Inner-City Communities

Broader Impacts

Dissemination of Research




Present State of Knowledge

The use of new telecommunications systems has progressed faster and deeper into our society than the theories we use to guide research on such technologies. Michael Batty (1996) states "the city itself is turning into a constellation of computers," and calls for a new approach to the study of cities that builds upon the "synthesis of computers and telecommunications." Moss (1986) identifies two schools of thought with respect to information technologies and cities. One is that these technologies "will ultimately lead to the demise of cities by allowing electronic means of communication to substitute for face-to-face transactions." The alternative framework is that they "can facilitate both concentration and dispersion of economic activities."

The conventional wisdom is that technology will eliminate the need for cities as centers of interaction (Gillespie and Richardson, 1998, and Graham and Marvin, 1996). Negroponte (1995), has stated that "[T]he post-information age will remove the limitations of geography. Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible." Gilder (1995) argues that "cities are the leftover baggage from the industrial era." Gordon and Richardson (1997) state that "advances in telecommunications are now accelerating the decentralization trends set in motion by the advent of the automobile·proximity is becoming redundant." By contrast, Mokhtarian (1997) argues that "the long-term effects of telecommuting, especially on where workers will choose to live, are not well understood at all."

Ever since A Communications Theory of Urban Growth (Meier, 1961) was published, there has been a vigorous, but small, body of researchers who have sought to understand the role of cities as centers of communications. Abler (1970) noted that "the production, exchange and distribution of information is critical to the function of the modern metropolis·cities are communications systems." Gottmann (1983) argued that communications technologies work in two directions by making it possible both to concentrate and to disperse economic activities.

Hall (1997) has noted that the flow of information through urban centers is one of the leading characteristics of the "postindustrial city." Gaspar and Glaeser (1997) have emphasized the synergy between telecommunications and the face-to-face activities that occur in central cities when they state: "it is also possible that telecommunications are not a substitute for face-to-face interactions, but in fact these two forms of information transmissions are complements. If they are complements, then we should expect cities and space to get more important as information technology improves." Isard (1997) notes, "the greater the substantive complexity, irregularity, uncertainty, unpredictability, and uncodifyability of transactions, the greater their sensitivity to geographical distance." Castells (1996) suggests that new technologies are leading to "the supersession of places by a network of information flows."

In recent years, there have been numerous studies on the role of information technology in urban spatial patterns, yet the scholarly research has yet to be fully absorbed into theories of urban growth. Several studies have quantified the magnitude and character of inter-metropolitan information exchanges among various media-telephone messages, overnight delivery parcels, and even air transportation. Abler (1970) analyzed telephone message flows between the six largest U.S. cities; Pred (1973) has documented the historical flow of information in the early American system of cities, and Wheeler and his colleagues (Sui and Wheeler, 1993, Mitchelson and Wheeler, 1994) have described an information-based urban hierarchy based on overnight packages delivered by Federal Express. The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (1995) found that telecommunications systems are "likely to continue to impact urban cores by letting more of the economy be operated at a distance."

Others have emphasized the role of technology in reinforcing the position of major cities in the United States (Moss and Townsend, 1996, 1997a, 1997b). Thrift (1996) offers a new rationale for face-to-face contact that occurs in a handful of world financial centers. He argues that the principal function of major financial centers is interpreting in real time the massive amounts of information that are generated each day: "Since the international financial system generates such a massive load of information, power goes to those who are able to offer the most convincing interpretations of the moment." Berry (1996) has suggested a need to classify cities based on their adaptation to new technological imperatives.

Information and telecommunications systems are also contributing to changes in the infrastructure of urban environments. Information technology improves service through network management, computerized diagnostics, data control systems, customer and manager information systems, and pricing systems. In transportation, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are dependent upon electronic signaling computer technology for transit and auto use to provide transit vehicle schedules for users (TRB, 1998). High-speed rail depends on computer and telecommunications controls to replace conventional signaling technology. Similarly, information technology is deployed for the control of electric power transmission, water delivery, and wastewater treatment systems. Nunn (1998) points out that telecommunications networks are often built along the same rights-of-way used for highways, rail, and water systems.

In addition to the physical environment, it is vital to recognize the way in which information technology is affecting the social and economic life of inner-city communities. There is a growing body of literature concerning the gap between those with the skills and resources to participate in an information economy and those who are information poor. "Americans most prone to phonelessness are not rural and elderly as is often assumed. They are urban, young, lower income, and within the lower income and age brackets, disproportionately black and Hispanic" (Mueller and Schement, 1996). Approximately 5.6 million households are without telephones in the United States, affecting approximately 15 million individuals. A report prepared for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (1995) states: "The lowest telephone penetration rates exist in central cities." Although there are numerous "public-private efforts to make electronic information available to the public at schools, libraries, or other public sites" (Servon and Horrigan, 1997), there is a need to understand the effectiveness of such efforts.


With support from the National Science Foundation, under the Urban Research Initiative
(C) 1999, 2000, 2001 Taub Urban Research Center, New York University
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