How will cities adjust and adapt to the possibilities of global communications?
Speech presented at HABITAT II, United Nations Conference for Human Settlements, June 1996, Istanbul
by Franz Nahrada, GIVE
Dialogue No.9 "Cities, Communications and Media in the 21st century"
It is a great honour to speak before this Forum. I would like, before
I try to answer the question put with the title of this speech, in a few
words mention what brings me
here, on the basis of which background my answer will be attempted. The city of Vienna has shown particular interest in both sustainable development and also the urban
impact of communication technology. The group that I am with is not directly institutionally linked to the city administration, but rather an external research group named
"Globally Integrated Village Environment Project". We started a conference on the changing face of the City in the Age of Telecommunication under the provocative name
"Global Village" in 1993. We were invited by the City of Vienna in the subsequent years to do this conference in Vienna's City Hall and expand it into an exhibition that
would enable all the stakeholders of urban development to have an early encounter with the manifold possibilities of new technologies. Vienna's City planning Department
was patronising this event and was using this technology to enhance citizen participation in the urban planning process; plans for urban development were put on the internet,
to get input, opinions and creative statements from the part of citizens. Politicians of various parties engaged in "online chats" as an additional forum to public gatherings,
allowing people to speak out about their point of views. Vienna therefore also tries to create free public access to the means of electronic mass communication, besides also
hosting a very large number of commercial Internet providers. Vienna is also committed to substantially support HABITATís best practice initiative by providing a base for
a European hub. The creation of a global network of linking and enhancing community efforts is meeting the traditional efforts of Vienna to provide a place of encounters,
conferences, and decision-making in a new and very promising way.
But there is another, maybe even more substantial point related to information
technology and the city of Vienna that I want to make before entering the
very subject. As
you might know, at the end of the last century, Vienna was a member of the club of the largest cities of the world. A newspaper columnist has found out, that in 1900
Vienna ranked number four worldwide in terms of population. Today, Vienna is - in the global scale - a rather intermediate city with only 1.7 million inhabitants. We are
talking today about cities roughly 10 times bigger in population, donít even mention expansion: Vienna has a relatively small footprint of 400 square kilometres, almost
50% of them being greenspace. Still, the ecological footprint of the city is way too large. But the limited size of the city is a blessing, it keeps problems manageable and it
allows the citizens to enjoy a comparatively high standard of living in terms of ecological life quality. In a way, this is a very encouraging condition to go one step further
and dare to make the city a living model for good practice, that can be repeated everywhere. Within the framework of the "Vienna Conference of the Future", the city has
started to look at itself as an ecological system that strives for sustainable material balance. The Viennese Urban Development Plan and Traffic Concept set very high goals
like the reduction of car traffic to 25% by the year 2010. Vienna is member of the European Cities Climate Union, which means a reduction of CO2 emissions by 50% in
the same timeframe. In terms of shelter for all, Vienna's financial engagement in urban rehabilitation and moderate expansion is probably unmatched in Europe.
But in many ways, all these achievements will not mean very much for
us if we are not able to share them; it then will mean inequality, tension,
pressure on everyone of us by migration, environmental damage and political tension. Very few things could symbolise this paradox better than the fact that Austrian people
got rid of nuclear power within the national territory by a successful and emotional political struggle - just to find themselves surrounded by the most dangerous atomic
reactors right outside their border. Their winds could reach Vienna in less than an hour. If we try to just export unsustainable ways of living instead of getting rid of them
completely, they will come back to us in one or another form. If we co-operate with our neighbours and communities elsewhere to make better use of local resources
everywhere, we do a hundred times more for our safety than with military and weapons.
Therefore we have to try every possible way to share what we have achieved;
in terms of information, this is particularly feasible, because information
can be duplicated at
almost zero costs and by that very act of duplication can have an enormous impact elsewhere. What my speech therefore is all about is the question if the expansion into
Cyberspace can help a city to gain sustainability in the physical plain. Can we use Cyberspace to build sustainable living space? And how can cities co-operate on this goal?
1. The global cities
The emergence of the current unsustainable trend towards the growth
of cities that we all face is in many ways connected to the economic globalisation
and, in this
framework, to the emergence of global information networks. Telecommunication has been and is an increasingly powerful engine of this economic globalisation. Only
with the help of vast informational transport capacities is it possible to set up the networks of production, distribution and financial control that are required in todayís
world. And it is the very process of globalisation that has favoured the growth process of cities. In todayís era of global markets it is nothing extraordinary, if the goods of
daily needs like a cup of yoghurt have travelled thousands of kilometres until they reach the point of consumption (such things being normal does of course not mean that
they really make sense). This means increasing competition between the producers, which again requires the permanent enlargement of their markets - a carousel which is
spinning faster and faster, creating increasingly capital-intensive centres on one side and a lot of problems for the peripheries on the other side.
The demands on the industrial bases that serve those global markets
are increasingly rising. Although often the control centres are separated
from the centres of production,
there is a global network providing the necessary support, knowledge base, workforce, and logistics, supplying the whole world with goods and services. Between those
centres exists a "space of flows" that comprises an increasing percentage of the worlds material, immaterial and financial streams. There is an increasing disparity in
demographic, economical and ecological terms between those centres and the peripheries; and in many cases, the demographic pressure on the cities reflects more the
relative decay of the peripheries than the prosperity of the cities. Cities appear as the lifeboats, but for that very reason they are getting more under pressure than ever.
As mentioned, it is very difficult to talk about cities in general;
some have managed to prosper on being the very control centres of global
economy, like New York,
London, Tokyo; these are the ones that urban researcher Saskia Sassen called the "Global Cities". In fact, those cities are also the big winners of the telecommunication
revolution; many times it has been pointed out that the City of Tokyo holds more telephone subscriber lines than the whole continent of Africa. But it seems that every large
city is now constrained in one way or another to follow the ideal of the "Global City" and invest all its economic power in the ideal of competitiveness. Increasingly the
cities themselves, and not only the Nation States, become actors on the international arena in order to ensure that they still will be chosen by corporations as location for
their headquarters or other economic activities.
It is not enough any more to provide traditional infrastructure, office
space, workforce, transport; a lot of "soft factors" are required, like
the knowledge base of a city, the
existence of specific corporate clusters, even environmental qualities are becoming increasingly important. It might be of crucial significance for example, if a technical or
logistical problem can be solved within half an hour. The increasing demand in the creation of those "soft factors" can by no means be met by the public sector alone. The
community administration is more than ever required to team up with all the interests existing in a city to create the critical mass in terms of "soft factors". This is
particularly true in regards to the financial aspects: by no means can the city itself provide all the services required to keep it competitive - taxation is not the answer any
more. One idea emerging under those conditions is the "private-public partnership": The community administration has to plan in co-operation with the private sector, how
infrastructure can be created that delivers return of investment as well as maximum benefits for other economic and social activities. Cities themselves have to act like
enterprises, rather than considering themselves governmental bodies that simply administer. The fashionable term of "city marketing" reflects the importance of actively
reflecting the outcome of economic and social activities within a city towards the outside world. It means that urban planning and development is substantially becoming the
design and production of this outcome towards the global arena. The quality of urban life has to compare to international standards, and often enough those standards are
In this situation, Telematic infrastructure seems to hold a big promise
for cities, and it by no means by accidence that, for example, the initiative
of the European
commission to boost telematic infrastructure with a deregulation of infrastructure providership was actively answered by a city competition. I am referring the City of
Stockholm with its Bangemann Challenge. Their goal is to provide fast, cheap bandwidth to all the actors in the city and to implement service areas that make the city an
attractive place for service providers. Interestingly enough, the major force unleashed by this deregulation of infrastructure might be the public utility companies - mostly in
possession of the city administrations - that have a lot of assets at their disposal like power lines and other channels for wiring. It might be a big temptation for those
companies to understand competition as non-co-operation; but there is also a big opportunity to co-create a telematic infrastructure that is as public as the roads of a city and
allow the rapid development of networks and services answering the needs of users.
In a way, privatisation is the usual way modern societies respond to
technology shifts, but not the ultimate truth. In many countries, the building
of railway networks
started by private corporations based on large amounts of capital; but when the networks became dense and influencing more and more parts of society, the necessities of
public re-regulation became stronger than the interest of oligolopolistic structures. The same might be true for the current boost in telematic networks, for which the postal
monopolies were not designed at all, but also the competition of various players is a very imperfect and doubtful solution. That does not mean that the private sector should
not play an important role in the life of the networks. But just as in the idea of the private-public-partnership, the constant view from various angles, from various goals,
from various sectorial politics on the infrastructural developments will be necessary to assure a meaningful development. Eventually, we might consider this as natural as
the fact that roads are built by private companies, but with public planning as the purchaser.
To answer the question how cities should adjust and adapt, let us look
at the five big promises of information technologies and examine closer
if and how they can be
turned into urban reality. There is the promise to create a ubiquitous marketplace, where goods and services can be produced, delivered and consumed
place-independently, which leads to the promise of decentralisation, better services, diversity and mixed structures. The third promise is citizen participation and the
revitalisation of community. It brings the fourth promise of better integration of the various elements of the city, which I tried to put in the analogy of an urban nerve
system. This nerve system could enable co-operation between cities, division of labour and a new economy of scope.
2. The five promises of Information technology
2.1. Ubiquitous marketplace - the economic backbone
As outlined before, the economic globalisation and information technologies
are a cluster of interrelated causes and effects, which produce a powerful
almost inescapable trend. An estimation of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva says that roughly 20% of all jobs in the old industrialised countries have been
transferred to South East Asia, Mexico, Eastern Europe and other countries. The most qualified jobs - the software development - for the development of magnetic
resonance tomography systems produced by Siemens in Germany are done in Bangalore/India for less than 25% of German wages, while the material parts stem from all
parts of the world. Then they are "just in time" assembled in Erlangen in Bavaria. Capital and production becomes increasingly mobile, and in the course of this
development the location of a business becomes an obsolete point. The comparison of market impact, wages, social costs, taxation is leading to placeless corporations that
find their natural home in cyberspace.
"Not only the Shells, IBMs and Sonys will act out there", write Herman
van Bolhuis and Vicente Colom in their recent book "Cyberspace Reflections",
"but nearly any
company of any size will be able to enter the global field. A good example of a possible future company structure is ABB. Consisting of partners in Sweden, US,
Switzerland and Germany," - and about 1000 branches in 40 countries all around the world, " the head office in Switzerland has only about 150 people employed there.
This totally decentralised structure denies the existence of borders. The information and capital flows between the parts of such a company are, in principle, no longer
controllable. If, for instance, digital money transfers become widely accepted, capital will become opaque."
The crucial question for cities emerging in this context is how to re-integrate
such "global" players into the framework of a functioning local economic
structure. There is a deplorable tendency of such globally networking entities to bring with them their own resources and pipelines, and in the normal case they tends to
ghettoise themselves intentionally. Manuel Castells has described the emergence of the "Dual Cities" especially on the bases of information technologies, where local and
global areas drift apart and are more concerned with their own affairs than with each other. The active promotion of integration into local networks requires participation
from both sides and also the respect for each otherís different intentions and reference frames. I do not think that we have fully developed the conceptual tools for this even
in a city like Vienna, where there are 40000 employees of international organisations and 18% of the population are foreign citizens.
In order to develop those conceptual tools, we must clearly understand
the advantages and disadvantages of this development. First, it is almost
inevitable. Any seclusion
from the globalisation process cuts the area off the economic dynamics and deprives it of any means to develop itself according to the state of the art in technology and
productivity. There are already so many invisible ties in the most elementary bases of life that bind us globally, that the attempt to cut them off completely regularly leads to
disaster. Second, and this is true as well, the reward does not come automatically and we are rather confronted with another kind of disaster which stems from the
destruction of traditional networks, traditional solidarity and traditional community. We have to actively adjust and adapt, but this requires a lot of consciousness,
intelligence and creativity. The advantages of the global, ubiquitous marketplace have to be actively discovered, spotted, enhanced. But this *is* possible, if globally
networking entities are considered a source of leverage for local development and if the competition between those entities is big enough to avoid dependencies. This can
mostly be guaranteed by active participation in this competition. For example, a hospital might save a lot of money for specialists and expertise on the base of telemedical
co-operations; a university might save a lot of money and resources by subscribing to distance teaching activities provided by virtual universities. There are now many
institutions that have completely devoted their activity to the ubiquitous marketplace and that are doing tremendous work in providing world class services and teachings.
But the effort must come with a constant balance seeking process between the global and the local service provision; and it must be combined with the active effort to
discover one's own strength and turn them into a competitive offering to the global marketplace.
I am not advocating this as a solution to the overall problem of unemployment,
economic decay and disparity. But I think more than just being the cause
of the problem, the
right handling of the globalisation process might also be part of the solution. We might think to stop turning all our activities into exportable goods and Commodities and
instead refocus much more on local development and local quality of life. But exactly because we want to achieve that, we have to develop the "Olympic spirit" that a critical
mass of participation in the global marketplace is absolutely mandatory to maintain the very base for the refocusing on our local agenda. So we want to send only the best
athletes to this global marketplace. Instead of providing expensive infrastructure for factories and office spaces, we might choose to invest in cables - but not cables to
import leisure, popular music, sports, video on demand and "pay per view". Those consumer gadgets mainly drain our financial resources, and turn our investment into
infrastructure into an unproductive one. Rather than that we need cables and satellite connections to import knowledge resources and simultaneously invest much more in
training and developing our own offerings.
A recent study by the European Union titled METIER which deals with
the macroeconomic effects of investments in advanced telecommunication
infrastructure has shown
that the investment in telematic infrastructure must be combined with deployment of applications and services, or it will lead to a dramatic loss in jobs. What I would like to
add to this is that even a successful deployment of such services might in the overall effect be combined with a net loss of jobs. If communities are sharing experts, they do
not need to employ so many. Therefore, the monetary gains of a possible and successful restructuring should not only be invested into training and workforce
development, but there should also be a financial transfer from the market sector to the non-market sector, which is discussed widely now as the only true solution to
unemployment. The non-market sector is consisting of people engaged into solving their own local problems at a community level. Governments will perceive the
community level more and more as a positive force allowing to maintain society even if the old maintenance base out of taxation is shrinking; but that means the
restructuring of communities and their economic build-up has to be supported.
I would like to mention one particular example of the positive combination
of ubiquitous marketplace and community activation. The city of Compton
was a once blooming,
now decaying community between Long Beach and Los Angeles, where the radical differences of American Life have turned a rural middle-class town into a suburban
problem-area. Fortunately, the city is linked to the Blue line, a suburban railway that connects Central Los Angeles and Long Beach. There is a building erected decades
ago, that once was a lively extension of the train and bus station, the Compton Transit Centre, now largely empty. Based on the 1990 census, 28,000 people live within 1/4
mile of this building, 33,000 live within 1/2 mile and 180,000 people live within 2 miles. Over 6,000 people a day gets on or off either the rail system or the 6 bus lines that
serve the area at the Compton Transit Centre.
In this setting, the use of the fiberoptic infrastructure of the metropolitan
transit authority for a telecentre is an attempt to create more access
to jobs and educational
resources for people otherwise secluded to their community. The initial community meetings for the prospective televillage therefore were well visited and well supported
with a lot of enthusiasm. Many services like job-finding, education, health and housing information will make use of the same telematic infrastructure. It is too early to say
if this definitely good practice will succeed, but I suggest that we all keep watching this example of re-creation of a local centre and of local communication. It might be a
positive alternative to the seclusion of people in their homes, served by teleshopping, telebanking and tele-everything.
2.2. Intentional Decentralisation - the physical plane
We are already in the middle of the second big promise information networks
hold for cities - decentralisation. One of the heaviest burdens that lie
on the shoulders of cities
today is the explosive growth of transportation needs, that surpasses all the natural provisions of urban infrastructure. Walter Siembab, promoter of the Compton
televillage, calls it the nightmare of the Auto-City:
"Auto oriented suburbs, shopping centres, industrial parks, and parking
lots and the extensive network of roads and highways that feed them characterise
environments of these "Auto-Cities." It is important to recognise that the capital cost of the investment to create Auto-Cities on a global basis is truly incalculable. Additional
wide scale rebuilding of cities is no longer affordable, and certainly is not feasible within any reasonable time frame. The challenge is to use what exists in more productive
and less damaging ways. Fortunately, new computing and telecommunications technologies characterised by unprecedented annual improvements in price-performance
ratios are available for integration into existing urban environments. In other words, telematic technologies offer the possibility of a cost-effective retrofit of existing
Auto-Cities in order to make them more liveable as well as economically and environmentally sustainable in the long run." Another planner from the worldís most
auto-obsessed city, Joseph Smyth, has tried to calculate the economic power that cities would gain out of diminishing the modal split in transportation. He starts at the
private costs of operating and owning a car, which multiplied with the number of cars lead to the incredible number of 56 billion dollars in the city of Los Angeles - "not
including road building, maintenance, police, fire, ambulance, hospital, loss of life, rehabilitation due to injury, loss of human hours due to commuting and traffic jams and
reductions in effectiveness at the workplace due to stress and other related illnesses."
The hidden costs of U.S. urban-sprawl cities are enormous, and the waste
of urban surface is another source of additional costs: the length of utility
lines and drains
produce another big amount of construction and maintenance costs, while the disappearance of natural "dissipation space" (= self cleaning areas) increases pollution and
lowers the quality of life.
The alternative lies in dense, clustered, pedestrian oriented urban
subcenters that hold all the possibilities for living, working and leisure
in close hand. "The city of short
distances" should be our goal and we should actively look into the possibilities of telecommunication to bring this goal into reality.
It is important to see that within their spectacular agglomeration process,
which on the surface appears as an immense process of centralisation, cities
have already provided
all the elements of decentralisation. Yet the form in which this decentralisation happens, adds to urban problems instead of diminishing them. The dynamics of suburban
sprawl in many cases has led to a development of Edge cities, which gradually attracted not only housing and living, but also other urban functions. Telecommunication has
played a big role in this development: Banks and insurances and many other businesses have moved their back-offices to the suburban areas, where real estate is cheap and
a mobile workforce is available. They have often drastically reduced front office and branch-office spaces because many tasks can now in real time be centrally done at the
back-office. So the emerging picture of cities is really rather polycentric than monocentric, with peripheral business districts as a new form. This development is already
announcing the end of suburbia in the traditional form. But for the moment it usually causes more car traffic, encourages further urban sprawl by widening the diameter of
the urban hinterland, and leaves a big question mark in the traditional urban centre, which is often answered by a sort of tourist-oriented or shopping mall use.
Still, the Edge City is like a training ground for the fractal city
and beyond that for the distributed city, where mixed use and high density
within sub-centres and clusters
create urban village situations and allow the emergence of urban life at short distance again. And here again, cities have a bit of influence in their hand; by decentralising the
administration process, by creating public access points and allowing their employees to telework, they can send out fundamental signals to the urban development process.
This is also the background of Vienna's participation in the creation of urban telecentres. The city has teamed up with major telecommunication companies to create those
centres in districts where urban expansion, in terms of housing projects, forces many people to commute to work. At the same time, those centres might also be the
crystallisation points of local networking and local business relations. The city will provide public information and interactive services to locals and raise the level of those
services so the forced trips to the centre will be reduced.
2.3. Citizen participation - the revitalised community
The third promise of new information technologies comes right along
with decentralisation: it is the promise of creating a closer link between
the urban decision - making
process and the citizens. While information technologies have for a long time been mainly perceived as a means of control and power, of big brother watching, there is an
increasing perception that the control perspective might be reversed, too. User polls have shown a vast preference of applications that allow people to access public
information online in comparison to applications of telematic networks in entertainment or even shopping via the network. But also administrations gain a lot from making
their information available; it means that there is opportunity for inclusive policy-making, involving citizens, organisations and interests into the development of a more
satisfying and sustainable urban environment. Author and architect Richard Levine has outlined, that at the core of every successful achievement of sustainability in urban
development lies an ongoing process of negotiation. Whilst in traditional city development this negotiation took place as a slow process of response and modification of
decisions, the modern city would very much require the help of electronic negotiation technology. The main reasons for this are the speed of development and the
complexity of the problems as well as the artificiality and unsustainability of the involved forces. Such a "sustainability negotiation process" would ideally include
simulation tools, so the anticipated results of actions and decisions could be experienced and allow constant re-negotiation. This would allow to avoid irreversible mistakes
and to find solutions where the pursue of one interest does not harm other existing interests, where there is synergetic potential to create win-win- situations. Sometimes the
process might end up with the exclusion of certain interests in a particular local case.
While Levineís vision of a balance-seeking process at the core of electronic
interaction is a positive and vital guideline to the development of electronic
authors have outlined and some experience has shown that in the practice of electronic democracy lies a number of inherent dangers, which might produce negative results
as well. First of all, the new media might be themselves artificial and unsustainable forces in Levine´s sense. They might give access to the computer literate, easy-access
and time-rich type of interests, leaving the ones with less means and abilities out of the game. Second, they might favour emotional, spontaneous and media-manipulated
decision-making rather than sound and well-thought-of solutions. Third, it is not automatically guaranteed that the presence of citizen participation would also support the
consideration of "mute interests", like the preservation of natural dissipation space beyond recreational areas or other conservation issues.
It is therefore vital to experiment and to enhance the function of the media before applying it in the large scale.
2.4. Systemic feedback - the urban nerve system
There is a fourth promise created by information technologies in regard
to sustainable city development. That is the promise of a more coherent
use of urban resources by
the emergence of a kind of nerve system, that would allow cities to react and behave more like living systems, in real time and in a structured way. We are discovering that
the exchange of information in real time is in fact much more fundamental to the function of every life form than we have previously assumed - and we can learn and
achieve very much if we consider the city as an emerging life form of its own. Richard Register from Ecocity Builders, Berkeley has brought to my attention that there is a
lot of structural analogies that have been made by Author James Grier Miller between cells, organs, organisms, groups, organisations, societies and supranational systems,
with the same nineteen critical subsystems appearing at each level. We might consider cities in the same way that Miller did with other manifestations of our social life. Life
is interaction with the environment, and living systems are constantly processing the balance of their internal functions with the changes in their environment. The quick
adjustment of every part of the urban organism to environmental changes and internal deficiencies is crucial for its overall duration and sustainability. And with the growing
complexity of the urban organism there is not only a requirement for adjustment and growth control in long terms, but also for very fast adaptation processes.
Today we are at the very humble beginnings of such a development; at
least, we are beginning to understand the crucial role of being informed
for the actions we choose.
Information technology allows us to connect data networks to sensory organs, the eyes and ears and other senses of the city. The city of Vienna gets aware every ten
seconds of the concentration of toxic substances like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and ozone: the data recording system records the values at 18
critical places and calculates minute and hourly averages. The values measured are displayed for citizen information at large displays at prominent places, but also sent to the
Internet, voice announcement systems reachable by telephone, videotext and also daily newspapers. They give short term and long term feedback to actions - they might
show the efficiency of environmental measures - as well as they influence short-term behaviour and long term consciousness alike. They also serve as an alarm tool in the
case of emergency.
2.5. Networking co-operation - the ultimate resource
While there is a lot of internal benefits that can be gained by the
applications of information technology to the urban organism, one might
add to the metaphors of the "nerve
system" and the "multicellular organism" the one of "eyes and ears and mouth" to describe the fifth promise that information technology holds. Following the organic
metaphor, it allows the formation of networks between urban organisms that are co-operative and collaborate independent from distance. Thereby those networks form a
higher system level, like the one of a group is beyond the one of a single organism. It was part of the first promise, that the traditional notion of the city - a hub of
knowledge and tools - could be expanded, if every city in the world could be offering and sharing its knowledge base to others. But this also means a deep change of
identity that can influence the role of cities in a positive or negative way. The "global cities" are becoming nearer and more familiar and similar to each other than most of
those global cities are in regard to their respective hinterlands or outlands. The danger is, that mankind is drifting towards an archipelago of highly-developed nodes that are
culturally growing together while leaving the periphery completely out. Megacity growth and land losses seem to go hand in hand. The positive vision, however, is, that
the networking of cities and communities creates a new and powerful entity that gains energy from connectedness. That this energy might also help us to reverse the trend
to megacity growth - simply because the knowledge resources of the Megacity can be accessed everywhere. Cities do have optimum sizes, and they are even far below the
size of Vienna. Maybe the last and most efficient reason to eliminate the megalomanic patterns that still prevail in our thoughts will be when we see the successful operation
of a city network as administrative body. When we see that it does not mean the loss of any access to resources or power, when smaller cities decide to join their forces and
share their competences, but the opposite is very true. In a time of ongoing fragmentation, tribalism, separation and externalisation, city networks could be the structure that
can fill the void that the power shift from nation states to global businesses has produced. The citiesí networks might be the answer to the growing difficulty to maintain
social standards and a good level of public services. There is almost a spontaneous tendency towards networking nowadays between cities, and it is very obvious that an
initiative like the Best Practice Initiative of the UNCHS or similar initiatives at regional level signal a structural difference between the behaviour of cities and nation states.
Cities seem structurally much more inclined towards co-operation than towards confrontation. The new paradigm, boldly called "paradigm of the plant" by Terence
McKenna, is spreading on the grassroots level - while at the official level the "paradigm of the animal" still prevails. McKenna characterises the paradigm-shift as follows
"We have in the course of history copied the economy of animals that change to other areas, when their resources are depleted.... Plants in the contrary are bound to very
efficient recycling and co-operation. The meshwork of roots in a tropical rainforest is an environment of maximal diversity. Those roots are constantly exchanging complex
chemical messages; Checks and balance and an evolution towards symbiotic relations regulate the whole system".
In a way, this is true for the desirable future of cities. They are
a part of the planetary life support system, and one-day we might understand
them as the inorganic plants we
live in. We will understand that neither too much density serves their purpose well, nor too much distance. From the biology of plants we can learn that the growth of one
could be positively linked to the growth of the other ó this could hold true if they are from equal or different species. In a way, we might then also realise that there is no
real difference between the creation of peace and the intentional building of human habitat alongside the plant paradigm.
3. A word about the Village
Allow me to take this thought one step further and ask about the relation
between the city and the village. The fact that two thirds of the worldís
population are going to live
in cities should lead to the conclusion that we have to at least devote one third of our considerations to the village - even if we accept the megacity growth as an irresistible
trend. There is no doubt that the traditional meaning of the village - the place built as a cluster of farms, of agricultural production which served for subsistence and income
alike - is in rapid decline. But this comes with a very dangerous side effect: It means the abandonment of cultured landscape, of the only real place of dialogue and real
encounter between man and nature. A coral reef in Australia, a desert landscape or a rainforest might be of immense beauty, but they are strange and abstract to us, and we
mostly enjoy them in the form of pictures and media. Only the village is the place where we actually can live within nature to a certain extent. It is the product of hundreds
or even thousands of years of experience, of trial and error, of patient struggle and gradual evolution. The village by its very definition is a place where natural resources
are available in abundance, whereas the city is a place of scarcity. But the village is also generally a place of high solidarity and mutual support, whereas the city is a place
of competition and anonymity. Giving up the village might mean a lot of erosion, not only in geological terms, but also in terms of culture and social relations. We are in
the middle of this erosion, and the news that we get from the villages of this world is increasingly bad news. That is why people flee them, that is why the cities grow.
When we gave the Term "Global Village" to our Vienna event, it was out
of the deep conviction that the village still has a future. In fact, the
trend towards the edge of the
city is mirroring our deeply rooted need for open space, nature and its resources. A recent survey from the Urban development Institute of Stuttgart University shows, that
independent of the size, the location or the cultural background cities world-wide trend to have a chaotic development pattern with maximum surface, fractal structures and
"settlement islands". This trend is even stronger in cities with rather compact core structures like Boston, Paris or New York. The usual picture of urban sprawl is
somehow too simplistic to understand the real development, where cities like Boston and New York develop an Edge Surface up to 30 times bigger than the edge they
would have in the image of continuous sprawl.
Besides that, there is a demographic trend of high-income strata back to rural areas, which mirrors deeply routed needs and desires.
I would like to present to you a very personal vision to answer this
desire, which goes, of course, a little bit beyond my speaking on behalf
of the City of Vienna - but
implies that we cannot talk about the future of the city and the future of the village separately. Like the diversity in the rainforest, the city and the village are two plants or
life forms that need each other, and they can only survive in symbiotic relation to each other. This was true for the agricultural age, when cities grew at the crossroads of
trade and around the castles of the warlords, this was true in the industrial age, when cities became the place of material production, concentrated mass armies of workers
and built the pipelines for globalisation, and this will be true for the information age, when the cities will be the hubs in the network of pipelines. Always their very
existence was rooted in a meaningful polarity to the village. When I talked about ubiquitous marketplace I mentioned the co-existence of market sector and non-market
sector as a positive perspective for the inevitable increase of competition and unemployment in a globalise economy. Now I would like to go one step further and describe
the inherent positive economic dynamics that we might be able to unleash on the base of Information technologies.
In this picture, we have in fact the "global city" on one side and the
"global village" on the other one. The Global City is the entity which
is seeking its primary goal in
competition in the global economy, and it can only do so by steadily investing capital and increasing productivity, moving jobs around the globe or replacing them by
automation. This situation is fundamentally unsustainable, also in simple economic terms. The ultimate purchasing power of consumers world-wide is subject to constant
erosion, while production is expanded without limits. The microelectronic revolution has made it extremely improbable that this expanding production will create new mass
employment, like Henry Fordís production boost did for the car industry. Rather than that, the mass consumers will slowly disappear. In this scenario, a positive dynamic
could emerge. Instead of the mass consumer, urban industries might target a completely new entity of customer: "prosuming clusters", that is the mixed community of
specialised place-independent workers and a local community that is growing around locally available resources. There is a clear synergy here: In this scenario, the "Global
Village" arises as counterpart to the global city, because the combination of freely available natural resources with high technology allows a community to drastically reduce
living costs without losing quality of life. And this might not be just a deliberate choice, but a constraint: the amount for a minimum of technology necessary to dwell on
local resources might be the price that Global Corporations will pay for skilled brainwork - and not more. This cold economic dynamic, that already moves hundreds of
thousands of jobs away from Europe to countries like India, that shakes and frightens unionists and politicians, that works beyond any attempt to stop it, might carry in
itself the seed for a drastic change in society. The Globalisation shock has the power to favour local arrangements and alliances that combine local material production
cycles with global immaterial specialisation ("telematic triangle") and work more efficient than old consumer-pattern cities. It might bring forward a shift in the nature of
industrial products, favouring tools for "productive village building" rather than traditional household consumer goods. It might help many people eventually to get more
market-independent. It might help them to create sheer abundance around them, because the ratio of what we can do with fixed material resources has drastically changed.
But this will only happen if on the other side the "Global Cities" discover and serve this market and actively develop it. Only if the same amount of capital, skills,
imagination and zeal is put into this goal, as it was the case with the Personal Computer, Star Wars and Video on Demand, we might end up somewhere meaningful. Since
I feel the negative impacts of globalisation are increasingly annoying every one of us, why not start a positive competition? The City of Stockholm has launched a
Bangemann-Challenge to honour the city that will be the fastest and the best implementing certain telematic application areas. I feel it would be good if we had another
challenge to honour the city that does it in the most meaningful way and ends up with sustainable results.
4. How can Cities adjust and adapt?
To summarise the question that was the subject of this speech, I think
it is very important that cities consider the information networks part
of their infrastructure, as
important as roads, telephone lines or public transportation. They might decide to leave the development of this infrastructure to the private sector, but to a certain extent it is
necessary to express public preferences, alongside the fulfilment of the promises mentioned in this speech. I therefore would like to underline and close with the following
recommendations of Ricardo Petrella:
"It is urgent to promote a vast open, participatory (all "stakeholder"
included) world assessment of the economic, social, cultural and political
consequences of alternative development pathways of Information Society/Cyberspace. New Information and communication technologies (New ICT) can be designed and
used effectively to meet present economic and social maldevelopments, provided that conditions are satisfied such as:
- To develop by priority those infrastructures, products and services
that maximise the long term balance between individual empowerment and
linked to New ICT on the one side and 'community' empowerment and opportunities, on the other side;
- To promote technological innovation with the aim of solving human
and social problems rather than increasing productivity and competitiveness
in already saturated
- To promote and sustain 'communitarian' information and communication
squares, street corners, secondary country road, i.e. the 'public / civic
- To involve all concerned social groups to be active participants in the exploration of needs, designing action programs and governing the implementation process"
(Ricardo Petrella, Preface, in: Bolhuis/Colom, Cyberspace Reflections, Brussels 1995,p.10)