Urban Planning and the Internet
An exploration

Hari Srinivas, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan

It came in one of the mailing lists, a request by Rita Barber for ideas on decentralization of neighbourhood services......

"....Seeking models of effective decentralization of neighborhood services by local governments. Also any information about local governments initiating innovative methods for serving neighborhoods would be appreciated. Thank you."
And from all over came replies, within the day. A total of 14 of them were posted on the mailing list. I sent a reply too. And before the end of the week, more were poring in:
David Sink, AIOG
"In my town, we have 12 alert centers, which are decentralized outposts of city government. Services are limited to community policing, housing code enforcement, rental inspection, and drug abuse prevention, although as they evolve, I expect more services will be delivered through them ... "

David C. Ranney
"One interesting example of decentralized neighborhood services is the Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI) in Chicago. Here community development funds are used to pay CDC employees to visit industries in their turf and try to gain needed support ... "

Al Boss
"Seattle has done some work with installing neighborhood service centers (little city halls), and has a remarkable program in which they give small matching fund grants to neighborhoods for various projects suggested by the people from the neighborhood. (They must make an in-kind donation of either funds, labor, or both, as I understand the program.) ... "

Jeff Clements
"The City of Portland has established an Office of Neighborhood Organizations to oversee the city's relationship with its neighborhoods, of which there are 92 officially recognized neighborhood organizations. They serve as conduits through which the city communicates information to neighborhood leaders and through which the neighborhoods communicate their priorities and preferences to city government ..."

And there in lay the beauty and versetality of the internet as a means of communications. The fact that Rita Baber could post a question on the internet, and get a reply within a day from the US, UK, France, Norway, Thailand and from me in Japan. Did it help her to develop a viable programme for her neighbourhood? I presume so. She did not get back to say what happened. But the replies did present her with ideas and alternatives and pointers to more information and people. What exactly then is the internet? Is the bruhaha being made about it (30 million users all over the world, doubling every year since 1990 et al.....) really what it seams. Many of us approach the very idea like the farmer who approach the telephone for the first time way back when it was introduced.

We have come a long way now. People now talk of whole communities being built on the net. Virtual Communities.

But how exactly does community grow out of a computer network? It does so because the network enables new forms of communication.

The most obvious example of these new digital communications media is electronic mail, but there are many others. We should begin to think of mailing lists, newsgroups, file and document archives, etc. on the internet as just the first generation of new forms of information and communications media. The digital media of computer networks, by virtue of their design and the enabling technology upon which they ride, are fundamentally different from the now dominant mass media of television, radio, newspapers and magazines. Digital communications media are inherently capable of being more interactive, more participatory, more egalitarian, more decentralized, and less hierarchical.

As such, the types of social relations and communities which can be built on these media share these characteristics. Computer networks encourage the active participation of individuals rather than the passive non-participation induced by television etc.

In mass media, the vast majority of participants are passive recipients of information. In digital communications media, the vast majority of participants are active creators of information as well as recipients. This type of symmetry has previously only been found in media like the telephone. But while the telephone is almost entirely a medium for private one-to-one communication, computer network applications such as electronic mailing lists, conferences, and bulletin boards, serve as a medium of group or "many-to-many" communication.

The new forums atop computer networks are the great levelers and reducers of organizational hierarchy. Each user has, at least in theory, access to every other user, and an equal chance to be heard.

There are many things that we can do with the internet. Bfore we move any further, have a look at an internet glossary. As far as urban planning itself is concerned, there has been essentially three areas where the internet has proved viable: 1. Query Processing: Like Rita Barber and her query on decentralized neighbourhood services, mailing lists, newsgroups, electronic bulletin boards etc. have helped people communicate, where widely scattered information has become more accessible by posting questions to internet/email users. A number of mailing lists related to planning and community developement have been in existence which can be subscribed and used to post messages to all users of that list.

2. Sharing of Ideas Governments, NGOs, Academic institutions, consultants, national and itnernational organizations etc. have set up "homepages" on the world wide web, with information on their organization and operations enabling wider dissemination, and matching of needs and resources.

3. Subject-specific databases on a wide variety of topics and subject have been developed. Such databases generally carry bibliographies, documents and write-ups, information on mailing lists/newsgroups, links to other sites, email and addresses of useful/relavant organizations. For example, I myself manage a World Wide Web homepage on Informal and Mircocredit, and Community Based Finance. It is located at [ http://www.soc.titech.ac.jp/titsoc/higuchi-lab/icm/index.html ]

To comprehend the wide range of info available, take a look at this:

The above list is only a sample, and ideas, events (conferences, seminars, exhibitions), news, organizations, networks, data, publications, and other info can be found and is too vast to be listed here!

"As a net is made up of a series of ties, so everything in this world is connected by a series of ties. If anyone thinks that the mesh of a net is an independent, isolated thing, he is mistaken. It is called a net because it is made up of a series of interconnected meshes, and each mesh has its place and responsibility in relation to other meshes."

- Buddha

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