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





Research Area #3: Telecommunications, Infrastructure, and the Environment

The effect of information and telecommunications technologies on the performance and flexibility of other infrastructure (e.g., transportation, energy, water treatment, and delivery) will be evaluated in the context of prevailing environmental and infrastructure policy and legislation. We will assess how the use of information and telecommunications technology improves the flexibility and performance of infrastructure (including meeting environmental standards) compared to more traditional forms that do not make use of such technologies. After assessing the impact of information and telecommunications technology on infrastructure, we will attempt to identify ways that information and telecommunications technology tends to lessen or exaggerate infrastructure's influence on urban form.

The following questions are to be addressed:

  • How is information and telecommunications technology being used in infrastructure, categorized by type of infrastructure (e.g., transportation, energy) and specific function (e.g., valve control in water treatment systems)?
  • What are the performance impacts in terms of flexibility, reliability, and efficiency?
  • Specifically, how has information and telecommunications technology been used in efforts to meet environmental regulations or standards?
  • If infrastructure is becoming more flexible, reliable or efficient through the use of information and telecommunications technology, will it become more or less of a determining factor in shaping the form of urban areas (that is, will it begin to influence urban form or adapt to it)?

That information and telecommunications technologies are already influencing and transforming infrastructure is apparent. In transportation, for example, automated highway systems, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), high-speed rail, and new pricing/anti-congestion systems are all based upon or very dependent upon information technology (TRB, 1998; Scientific American, 1997). Production, transmission, and detection systems for water supply, environmental facilities, and energy show a similar use and dependency. Newer electric power production systems (e.g., "combined cycle" systems) are almost entirely computer dependent and increase efficiency and reduce environmental emissions. The effect of these changes on the environment and the spatial organization of cities will usually occur as a result of increased speed of service, increased reliability in some respects (given that these changes are embodied in new infrastructure), and changes in urban development patterns.

These analyses will focus on how information technology increases the flexibility and improves the performance of infrastructure. Flexibility refers to the adaptability of infrastructure to changes in demand or conditions. For example, new technology signals can increase the capacity of transit system as ridership grows. Performance improvements can be made in many areas, such as safety, consumer satisfaction, pollution level, and cost. For example, high-precision (information technology-controlled) detection systems can be used to reduce the number of water main breaks in water delivery systems.

Two tasks are proposed to carry out the research on information and telecommunications technology usage and its effect on infrastructure flexibility and performance. The first task is to survey the use and performance impact of information and telecommunications technologies in infrastructure (e.g., transportation, energy, water and wastewater treatment and delivery) by infrastructure type and function. The survey will describe how technology affects how environmental performance standards are met. The survey will involve a critical review of selected investments in major urban centers and structured interviews with providers and users of information and telecommunications technology with authority over capital programs. These interviews will be designed to obtain data on telecommunications technology use in infrastructure, performance of such use, intensity of use, and future potential. The development of these measures will draw upon the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (ICIS) database of interdisciplinary infrastructure performance measures that is currently underway in transportation, environmental infrastructure, and energy.

The second task will be to analyze the data gathered in the survey to develop an understanding of how information and telecommunications technology influences the form of the urban environment. We will determine how the shift to information and telecommunications technology infrastructure is influencing urban form. This task will provide an analytically based model that relates levels and type of use of information and telecommunications technology in infrastructure and the spatial structure of cities.

A team of engineers, environmental scientists, and planners will work together, in close collaboration with the telecommunications team. Professor Rae Zimmerman, with thirty years of experience in environmental planning and risk analysis, will direct this work. Environmental science and environmental engineering will be supported by Professors Bob Howarth and Tom O'Rourke of Cornell University. Howarth, an ecologist, will assist in the design of indicators of environmental condition that are related to infrastructure. O'Rourke has expertise in water and electric power infrastructure. Transportation professionals that are part of ICIS will also participate on a consulting basis. Professor James Moore of USC will provide transportation modeling expertise to conceptualize the relationship between telecommunications and changes in transportation patterns. Professor Robert Paaswell, Director of the University Transportation Research Center at the City University of New York, will provide expertise on public transit and infrastructure policies.


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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