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




Problem Description

Information and telecommunications technologies are shaping the form and function of cities and metropolitan areas in the United States in ways that are far more complex and subtle than the automobile and interstate did in an earlier era. Public policies for urban development have largely ignored the pervasive influence of information technology in cities and their surrounding regions, while continuing to emphasize "brick and mortar" approaches to solve the physical and economic problems of urban centers (Moss, 1997).

This proposal is based on a simple argument: the deployment of new information and telecommunications systems is altering the activities that occur in the key elements of urban society-such as the home, the office, the automobile-and will ultimately affect the way in which citizens participate in government and the public sector provides services in urban areas. Innovations in telecommunications are blurring the separation between the home and the workplace, radically changing office location and design, and transforming transportation systems into information-intensive infrastructures.

Theories of urban growth and development have yet to incorporate adequately the role of information technology in the locational decisions of people and jobs. Remarkably little attention has been given to the influence of information and telecommunications technologies on the location of economic activity and the relationship of face-to-face interaction to electronic communications in the economic, physical, and social structure of cities. To date, we have invested far more resources to study the influence of transportation systems on urban development than to understand the relationship of information technologies to urban development.

This project is designed to improve our capacity to identify and measure the technological, organizational, and economic systems that affect a city's capacity to process, generate, and distribute information. This requires an understanding of the technological infrastructure used to move information, the physical setting in which information is created, organized and handled, and the organizational and economic structures that facilitate the location of information-based activities.

The Information City

The information city is increasingly differentiated from previous urban forms by its extensive and interconnected infrastructure networks for moving information. The diffusion of information technologies in large cities and regions drastically increases the complexity of cities, by increasing the number and type of interactions among individuals, firms, technical systems, and the external environment. Despite the rapid integration of information and telecommunications into urban activities and infrastructures, current theory and policies fail to explicitly consider the role of information technology in urban growth and development.

One reason why information and telecommunications are so rarely included in urban research is that the data are not easily available. Unlike demographic or housing data, there is no public agency that regularly collects and publishes information on the telecommunications systems and information infrastructure in households or the information-related activities of individuals. And unlike the nation's transportation infrastructure, much of which has been financed by public expenditure, there are no local, state or federal agencies with responsibility for the planning, construction, and management of communications systems. While there is considerable information available about telecommunications infrastructure and investment, as well as telephone traffic at the state and national and international level, obtaining information about urban and regional communications systems requires ingenuity, time, and resources.

Technological Change and Urban Development

Another factor that has contributed to our limited understanding of information and telecommunications systems is the speed with which new technology has altered basic elements of urban activity: the workplace, the home, the automobile, and other infrastructure. Existing data collection systems still emphasize how much physical space is in a dwelling or office building, rather than how much information flows in, through, and out of such structures.

Just as the office environment has been influenced by telecommunications technology, the home is undergoing a fundamental change in its function and design as a result of new telecommunication technologies. For much of the last 100 years, the home has primarily functioned as a site for social-emotional functions of the family, explicitly designed as a refuge from the workplace. A relic of Victorian-era philosophers and urban designers, this separation of home and work is disappearing as new information technologies are becoming widely available. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (1998), more than 21 million Americans did some part of their primary job at home in 1997, and more than half of those used a computer for their home-based work.

Today, information is brought into the home through satellite dishes, coaxial cable, modems attached to phone lines, as well as through wireless technologies. Home contractors now treat telecommunications infrastructure as the equivalent of "electronic plumbing," and new homes are being equipped with high capacity phone conduits to accommodate information services. It is conceivable that in the next century, a home's value will be judged by the speed of its dial-up connections, rather than conventional measures such as the number of bedrooms or bathrooms.

Information and telecommunications technology are also affecting transportation patterns, the geographic scale of metropolitan regions, and the infrastructure within a metropolitan region. Infrastructure, other than information technology and telecommunications, consists of transportation, water, waste disposal, and energy and supports the structure of cities and regions. The influence of information and telecommunications technologies on these infrastructures is critical to the planning of cities and regions since the use of information technology in infrastructure systems is growing rapidly (TRB, 1998).

It is necessary to understand how new information and telecommunications technology can improve infrastructure systems and the urban environment. How are new information and telecommunications technologies being used in infrastructure systems, and do they effect performance and flexibility? How does environmental and infrastructure policy promote the use of information and telecommunications technology in ways that improve infrastructure performance and flexibility? With the greater use of information and telecommunications technologies, are infrastructure systems becoming more flexible? If so, how will that affect the physical form of urban areas?

Advances in information technologies are also influencing the delivery of public services and the capacity of low-income groups that are concentrated in central cities to participate in information-intensive industries and to foster local community development. An increasing number of state, local and federal agencies are delivering their services electronically, thus imposing a new requirement-access to a telephone or computer-for participants in public programs. Residential telephone penetration in low-income urban areas is far lower than in middle- and upper-income communities. Public policies are being implemented at the state and federal level to encourage the wiring of schools and libraries for access to the Internet. But it is essential to analyze the way in which central city and suburban households differ with regard to access to and use of information technology and the implications for urban economic development.


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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