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Exploit the advances in IT to restructure cities along sustainable lines

The new information technology is transforming the economy at all levels. Citizens’ minds and sophisticated technologies are replacing raw materials and brawn. The networking of creativity is now driving the new ‘creative’ economy. Exchanges between art and technology - the exchange of ideas rather than of commodities - are becoming the life-blood of the new economy and of our future prosperity. These changes directly affect the shape of the city because the information superhighway, cheap computing power and sophisticated manufacturing robotics revolutionise work practices. New technology is liberating learning and work from their traditional locations. The clean-cut boundaries of yesterday’s activities - the factory, the office, the university - are being replaced by networked, flexible connections to sources of information. People will increasingly use knowledge when they want it and not just where it is institutionalised: one will be able to plug in and participate whether at home, at the café or in the park. Learning, living and working will continuously overlap.

These innovations could spur the restructuring of the city along sustainable lines. The industrial city of the nineteenth century evolved around rail access or supplies of coal and steel. The city of the late twentieth century was planned and developed around zones of single activity. In the twenty-first century city the economy’s reliance on small-­scale employment and creative exchange will generate far more diverse and personal needs. Small companies are less dependent on large-scale accommodation and more on the city’s infrastructure and local services. The shift of emphasis from large corporate operations to networks of small ones reduces the need for people to work in large, static groups and prompts the emergence of local workplaces scattered throughout the city, complemented by concentrations of formal and informal meeting-places. This process will have an important impact on the behaviour of the city. The huge rush-hour peaks into and out of the centres will gradually shift towards a more even distribution of mobility throughout the day and throughout the city. This will produce a greater dependence and more even and efficient use of urban transport. A finer and more diverse texture of city will increase demand for those cultural activities and civil services, which overlap rather than segregate. These trends provide economic justifications for planning cities around compact and ecologically sustainable communities.

Doing business - presenting and exchanging ideas - is recognisably reverting to being both a social and economic activity. This blurring of the boundary between work and the rest of daily life will focus the city into more compact and mixed social nuclei, a precondition for urban sustainability. In a world where wealth is generated by the creativity of citizens and where innovation will be prompted by the unpredictable and the spontaneous, city authorities will need to develop new policies that sustain the competitiveness and productivity of their citizens. How can the design of cities encourage the creative economy? Companies that can locate anywhere they want will go where they can attract good people in good places. The new economy will flourish in cities that have the right mixture of public life, mobility, life-long education and accessible cultural facilities.

Rogers, R. and Gumuchdjian, P., 1997, Cities for Small Planet