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ICT and the city. Tensions in the digital city - Abstract

by Alessandro Aurigi

Given the continuing rapid development of the information society, city planners and managers need to reconsider their level of awareness– and their degree of control – of the impact of information technology on today’s cities, says Alessandro Aurigi.

The concept of the 'digital city' - an urban environment whose functions, management and regeneration processes were enhanced through the deployment of information and communication technologies - emerged in the second half of the 1990s. Digital city activities were initially centred on the development of web-based civic information systems and portals, as several municipalities and their policy-makers identified the internet as something that could revolutionise the way we manage and use cities. High-tech 'clubs' of cities like 'TeleCities' or the 'European Digital Cities' initiative were formed to exchange experience, ideas, and good practice, often running projects funded through EC Framework Programmes.

The relationship between ICT and regeneration was the focus of much media and academic attention throughout the later 1990s. On visiting Kuala Lumpur in 1997 Martin Jacques argued in The Guardian that 'modern planning is not just about roads and estates. It's about an 'intelligent network' linking our offices and homes.'1 Even relatively unimaginative initiatives such as simple websites promoting places were often hailed as symbols of great innovation, and studied eagerly.

Now, the hype is settling, but ever-developing and pervasive computing technology is increasing the potential for social and urban IT applications beyond what could have been envisaged just a few years ago. The city is indeed becoming more 'digital' by the day, with central and local governments in several countries now committed to increasing electronic service delivery. In the UK, for instance, local authorities are working hard to meet the national target of making 100 per cent of governmental information and services available online by the end of 2005. But while IT use has become more embedded in everyday life,2 the technology itself is in some ways becoming more concealed, and more likely to be taken for granted as a 'normal' part of our existence.

But it is precisely because of the increasing embeddedness of IT in urban societies and cultures that the way the 'digital city' is being developed should be the object of a greater than ever deal of attention and careful research.

The information society is developing fast, but what degree of control - and what level of awareness - do planners and city designers have of its impact on the city?