TRANSPORTATION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS
The Information Age is the result of the convergence of computer and digital communications that permit instant worldwide transmission of voice, text, data and images. Telecommunication technologies are liberating the locations of work and residence, driving the need for new transportation concepts that blur the traditional meaning of intercity trips (travel between cities) and intracity trips (travel within cities) to consolidate these locations within economical travel of times, costs, and high reliability.
The death of distance as a determinant of the cost of communicating will probably be the single most important force shaping society in the first half of the next century.
The result may not necessarily be less traveling – indeed when people need to meet their electronic contacts they may actually travel further than before – but traveling will be of a different kind.
“Death of Distance”, Frances Cairncross of “The Economist”
THE INTERACTIVE MEGALOPOLIS
From 1980 to 1990, the fastest percentage growing transportation market in the United States, by a two to one margin, was commuters who travel between metropolitan regions versus commuters who travel within the metropolis. This is the result of significant changes occurring in the workplace and at home: increasing labor specialization; decreasing labor tenure; and the prevalence of two-income households. To achieve significant productivity gains in the New Age Economy, the urban commuting region needs to expand beyond the metropolitan confines of the previous age.
Just as the worker in the 1950 to 1980 period commuted from outlying suburbs by commuter rail or the automobile, the New Economy will see the development of the Interactive Megalopolis. This new urban form will cluster metropolitan regions linked by advanced telecommunications and transportation systems. Increased labor accessibility between metropolitan regions will result in better job matches without the need for residential relocation.
In the New Economy, it is “Knowledge Capital,” a portable asset that will attract international investment and not “Asset Capital” composed of buildings and worker tools. Urban regions that can increase accessibility to “Knowledge Capital” while managing the environmental, social and economic costs of increased travel will prosper in the Information Age.
A CITY IS PRIMARILY A PLACE TO WORK AND A PLACE TO LIVE
The Interactive Megalopolis is a necessary response to the escalating conflict between rising employer requirements for knowledge workers and quality of life concerns for urban residents. Quality of life concerns are not arbitrary subjective values describing aesthetic urban environments, but relate to and measure the cost of urban life of which the most basic needs are access to employment and housing.
When Hans Blumenfeld (1895-1987) stated the obvious that A City is Primarily a Place to Work and a Place to Live some fifty odd years ago, the maturing urban form was the metropolis brought about by changing industrial, commercial and residential location behavior made possible by the freeway. The expansive nature of the metropolis enabled residents to enjoy an unprecedented access to jobs and affordable housing.
In the ensuing years, urban planners have come to understand the limitations of an expanding road network as the environmental consequences of the automobile became evident. Today, most planners advocate “Smart Growth” communities as the proper environmentally sustainable response to urban growth. In an ideal world, it would make perfect sense to live in communities where you could walk or cycle to work. However, because hardly anyone stays with the same employer for 25 years at a fixed location and because spouses also work, it appears that the Smart Growth strategy is less capable in building compact urban communities than it was in the 1950’s when employees did stay with a single employer for an extended period while their wives stayed at home.
Magplane Technology Inc. believes the popular adjective “Sustainable” describes not only environmental objectives but also economic objectives as well. The urban form ought to be able to adapt to both changing economic conditions and to environmental constraints. Federal, state and local agencies have embraced these two notions in many of their urban planning and transportation plans.
However, another objective is equally important. The urban form has undergone several important transformations but at every stage, Americans as a society enjoyed greater prosperity. The emergence of a growing middle class continued throughout the century as home ownership became more accessible. Housing quality increased with each successive generation, whether the tenure status was owner or tenant occupied. This social achievement was the most enduring urban quality in Urban America.
Magplane Technology Inc. strives to develop and deploy a transportation system that will enable the urban form to continue its evolution in a manner that is environmentally economically and socially sustainable.
Periodically we will post a feature story to discuss an important theme of urban development, drawn from media coverage that highlights any of these three elements.