Athens in the information age: how will `smart communities' change the way we live.

Author:Eger, John

The more high tech our world, the more high touch we are becoming. The more global, the more intensely local our focus needs to be.

Athens, the place where civilization was born and where the city state form of governance first began, remains a symbol of the dynamic potential of cities to create and provide the linkages among culture, commerce and civic pride so important to the wealth and well-being of a community. Over the years, cities have been both cursed and blessed as they have been compelled to adjust to the underlying changes taking place in our movement to a global economy and society. Many cities have already died; others are in fiscal and societal decay.

Nonetheless, the concept of cities as engines of civilization remains deeply embedded in our collective psyche. Will they succeed and survive in this next transition to a knowledge-based, global information economy and society? Indeed, what role will cities play in this evolution? What will cities of tomorrow look like?

As cities of the past were built along railroads, waterways and interstate highways, cities of the future will be built along "information highways"--broadband communications links among homes, schools and offices, hospitals and cultural centers, and through the World Wide Web to millions of other locations all over the world. As past is prologue, surely some cities will become the ghost towns of the twenty-first century information age.

This article explores these revolutionary changes, explains the connections between technology and place, and provides a framework for understanding the city of the future--the Athens of the Information Age.

The power and pervasive influence of technology

...until flesh-and-blood human beings can be digitized into electronic pulses? the denizens of cyberspace will have to live IRL ("in real life") ...

In less than a decade, the great global network of computer networks called the internet has blossomed from an arcane tool used by academics and government researchers into a worldwide mass communications medium, now poised to become the leading carrier of all communications and financial transactions affecting life and work in the 21st Century.

The internet's so-called World Wide Web has been even more spectacular. With 30 million-plus users worldwide, growing at 15 percent per month, it is being integrated into the marketing, information, and communications strategies of nearly every major corporation, educational institution, political and charitable organization, community, and government agency in the world. No previous advance--not the telephone, the television set, cable television, the VCR, the facsimile machine, nor the cellular telephone--has penetrated public consciousness and secured such widespread public adoption this quickly.

In recent years, it has become fashionable to refer to the domain in which internet-based communications occur as "cyberspace"--an abstract "communication space" that exists both everywhere and nowhere.

But until flesh-and-blood human beings can be digitized into electronic pulses in the same way in which computer scientists have transformed data and images, the denizens of cyberspace will have to live IRL ("in real life") in some sort of real, physical space--a physical environment that will continue to dominate our future in the same way that our homes, neighborhoods, and communities do so today. Nonetheless, information technology is a force that will reshape our world as never imagined.

Cyberspace and the emerging cyberplace

According to Charles Handy, author of The Age of Unreason we live in an age of paradox. The more high tech our world, the more high touch we are becoming. The more global, the more intensely local our focus needs to be. The more competitive our markets, the more co-operation must play a role in developing our business strategies.

One of the more interesting paradoxes is that the more we live and work in cyberspace, the more important real place becomes. While this notion runs counter to much of today's popular literature, we are already seeing the knowledge worker and the high tech knowledge-sensitive industries migrating to highly livable communities--communities with mountains or lakes, open spaces, clean air, and, as in the case of Portland, Oregon and other communities where they have established urban growth boundaries, less reliance on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation.

This growing concern with urban sprawl, coupled with the nostalgic yearning which the new urbanism movement represents, are evidence of sweeping changes in...

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