ICT and perception of a city

In the last two decades Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has modified all the three aspects of a city- economic, social and political. The evolution has been such that ICT has even changed how cities are perceived.

In a chapter in his book “Urban Theory and the Urban Experience”, Simon Parker explains how the perception of cities is getting closer to the idea conceived by sci-fi writers like H G Wells than the urban sociologists like Bruges. Parker expands on how the movement from the machine age to the information age has affected the organisation of capital, labour and space altogether. The most recent examples being the increase in the amount invested by venture capital funds on startups completely based on internet. The growth of ICT has altered the idea of an industry from being a machine centric unit to a human centric unit. Hence the cities which were defined by large industries in the neighbourhood have shifted to IT oriented spaces.

This evolution of organisation and economical structure had a major impact on the cities. Parker has broken down the impact of ICT on three broad areas- first, based on the impact on the physical cities, second, on the urban designing, and finally, how ‘urban’ is perceived in the cyber space.

The impact on physical city, the first broad area, is visible clearly from the present condition of the shopping malls. With the rise in the electronic retail options, the decline in the social relevance of malls as both a shopping and a public space is lost. The easy delivery services and low storage cost has worked in favour of both the buyers and sellers. The impact doesn’t stop at economic factors though. The virtual world has also affected the relevance of city spaces. For instance, the once thriving fan clubs keeping the cafes in the city alive have all shifted to online forums. It is an outcome of these changes that has eventually penetrated into the current urban designing and planning.

Urban designing is an outcome of city spaces and resources within the city. The nature of key economic sector plays a vital role in deciding how the public infrastructure is designed. For instance, in the case of Bangalore, the IT capital of India, there are various Tech Parks across the city serving to the needs of the booming IT sector. In other major cities like Mumbai, the financial capital, the expansion is based on the commercial complexes that house various head offices.

Moreover, the increase in the ICT has modified the way traditional cities were perceived. For instance with the increase in electronically mediated meeting places, the cost spent on the actual office infrastructure is reducing. The phenomena like work from home or examples of startups originating in rented houses are becoming a norm. Hence, cities are increasingly being designed to attract highly skilled labour into low cost city spaces that are connected both physically and virtually.

Take the example of common work spaces in Bangalore like BHIVE and Co-Work Cafe. These workspaces indicate the transition of the once cluttered offices with rusted file cabinets to spaces with just a table, chair and a high speed internet. These spaces are not only cheap substitutes for offices but also allow various startups to interact with each other and provide exposure to some of the finest minds of the IT capital. Such work spaces do not just change the work culture in the city but also the lifestyle of the employees.

This interaction between city spaces and the virtual world is not one sided. As much as the virtual world has modified the perception of cities, the current urban theories and imagination also tend to seep into the virtual world. A common claim with the rise in ICT was of a decline in traditional dense cities. However, as also mentioned by Simon Parker, the rise in ICT is concentrated within the dense metropolis more than the rural ends. Hence, the proliferation of ICT is still reliant on the traditional features of a city like agglomeration economies, and highly integrated networks.

It is therefore evident that the rise in ICT might change the idea of a city from being a cluttered space covered with smoke from the nearby industrial belt to a set of residential and corporate structures relying on ICT to make the city work.


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Devika Kher is the Program Manager for Graduate Certificate in Public Policy and a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.