Smart About What?
With recent advocacy from the White House, "Smart Growth"
initiatives are now being promoted in most US metropolitan areas,
with particular emphasis focussed upon mitigating the impacts
of rapid population growth; the automobile; land, water, air
quality and other natural resources uses; and our desires for
economic development. These largely reactive and often vested
interest motivated planning processes have barely begun to consider
the impacts and implications of evolving technological development,
local-global internetworking of society, and the 'information
Government bodies, private sector groups and non-profit environmental,
education and healthcare organizations are becoming involved
in "Smart Growth" planning in the multi-county Sacramento
'capital region', where traffic impacts are increasingly untenable;
state agencies intend to mandate transfers of northern mountain
and valley waters to southern California; air quality looms evermore
densely visible above the horizon; Central Valley agricultural
fields are being replaced by sprawling subdivisions; and education
is not keeping pace with new job requirements. Can application
of internetworked decision-support systems and processes help
make a difference? What is the role of "Smart Community"
initiatives in this context?
Urban-Rural Communities Networking Initiatives:
Stewarding Changing Relationships in the Information Society.
Consideration of communities in an increasingly information
based society, and of our ability to act intelligently for their
benefit, cannot be done without taking into account the evermore
complex, socially dynamic, and economically critical relationships
between cities, their rural surrounds, and all that is disturbingly
filling in between. To separately address the problems, solutions
and changing state of cities or rural communities, is to deny
an ecological, whole systems approach to planning and living.
Few have studied or applied urban-rural relationships to the
new information society. Digital thinking has further fostered
an 'either-or' consideration of cities, rural areas and 'edge'.
The need to better understand, to plan, and to make more intelligent,
constituency-supported decisions about the impacts and implications
of societal change is urgent. This task, though critically necessary,
is a daunting journey into the heart of complexity. Internetworked
tools and facilitated public processes may, however, offer the
opportunity to do things a bit better.
Telecommunications, Education, Economics and Community Development
Over the last few years, a select number of federal and state
government agencies, corporate groups, and private foundations
have funded and subsidized the development of local/regional
telecommunications infrastructure and networked user applications,
with the goals of promoting 'universal access', enhanced educational
opportunities and 'smart' economic development. Measuring the
success or failures of these initiatives is a difficult task.
Anecdotal information and achievement milestones are only beginning
to be documented. To date there has been no appropriate means
for accurate determination of the relationship between telecommunications
systems and services, and geographically specific and dynamic
educational, economic or other demo-social trends. Without the
ability to begin substantiating the impacts of these funding
and subsidization programs, their effectiveness and continuing
existence is in jeopardy, and many pioneering public networking
initiatives will be left with a precariously uncertain future.
Improved methods are increasingly required for private sector
investors; information technology companies; state and federal
funding agencies; local government, schools, libraries, medical
facilities, community groups and local businesses to determine
the areas and amounts for their investment in and deployment
of telecommunications systems and services; for understanding
direct and indirect effects thereof; and for determining specific
social needs and appropriate ways to fulfill these in an economically
phased and sustained process.
Will newly structured public and private investments in building
a networked 'information society' prove their economic and social
worth, by fostering improved quality of life for all?
The Info/Eco Project is taking first steps to inventory, map
and analyze the telecommunications infrastructure of the urban-rural,
multi-county Sacramento Valley region. Data sharing among many
public and private entities, regulatory agencies and research
organizations will be required. The means, significance and value
of this effort will be in the correlation of telecommunications
mapping with the overlay mapping of economic development, educational,
and other social indicator-based dynamic data. A partnered approach
will help to assure data and analysis credibility and accuracy,
as well as safeguarding certain sensitive and competitive data.
The Info/Eco Project will utilize Geographic Information Systems
(GIS) and internetworking tools to inventory and map regional
telecommunications infrastructure and usage, and to relate this
mapping to specific existing and newly gathered technical, demographic,
economic and ecological indicator data. The resulting relational
database will provide an increasingly detailed geographic model
of the economic and social patterns and dynamics, and the associated
impacts and implications of existing and required telecommunications
facilities, connectivity, tele-media penetration, business and
job creation, educational enhancement, community development
and policy. The project is designed to be a replicable model
that can serve as the basis for more effective and pragmatic
'next step' tele-social decisionmaking, policy recommendations,
investments and actions.
The Info/Eco Project is particularly
timely for at least two reasons:
1. The link between telecommunications and economic growth
is being widely touted, but has little solid evidence upon which
to proceed. Federal and state agencies are currently investing
in and subsidizing NII based telecommunications demonstration
projects with public funds, attempting to promote universal access
and equity, lifelong learning and economic development. These
efforts are coming under increasing political fire. They can
only continue if they prove their economic and political worth.
2. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 has forced a dramatic
restructuring of the telecommunications industry, with complex
implications for the future of our society. Its implications
and impacts are in question. Without a good understanding based
upon fact, it will be difficult to protect and promote the interests
of rural areas and urban neighborhoods. The dangers are real
enough; in a reasonably competitive environment, cross-subsidies
become unsustainable. Even without subsidies, these areas need
to know how much and in what ways they should invest in their
own infrastructure needs. Currently, the information base with
which to guide such decisions is weak. This project's goal is
to generate a substantive information resource for improved telecommunications
and economic development based decisionmaking at the local, state
and federal levels.
What's the Matter; What's the Difference; What's the Use?
Most public decisionmakers and corporate leaders do not yet
understand the value of this proposed project or the needs that
it plans to address. Many others see competitive, regulatory
or security and privacy-based impediments to its undertaking.
The potential gains inherent in this undertaking, however, outweigh
the many perceived difficulties.
The Info/Eco Project is designed to be a direct complement to
the high profile and most urgently worthwhile strategic planning
and mapping efforts now in process, in the name of "Smart
Growth". These initiatives are largely reactive attempts
to address and mitigate the impacts of ever greater human imposition
on an increasingly fragile landscape.
The Info/Eco Project is a pro-active effort to address the
cause-and-effect changes being wrought by the tele-mediation
of society over the next few years, and beyond. It is based on
the belief that the evolution of the Internet and convergent
media will have at least as great an impact on our geographic
urban-rural communities, economic relationships and social processes,
as have transportation, energy systems and the industrial economy
over the last one hundred years.
The realization of "Smart Communities" and "Smart
Growth" must be actively integrated. It is time to truly
demonstrate what we intend to be smart about.
Cable TV companies and service areas
End user connections/subscribers
Cable modems and enhanced digital services
Cellular phone and wireless communications companies and service
Towers and antennas
Microwave towers and service areas
Long distance phone providers/carriers
Local phone companies/carriers
ISDN, DSL and ATM service areas and customers
Fiber optic trunk line providers/owners
Fiber lines and connections (dark and light)
Satellite up and down links
Companies and services
Service areas and subscribers
Internet Service Providers
Lines and connections
Service areas and subscribers
Telecommunications hardware and software companies
Business networks infrastructure
Public sector infrastructure
Government, universities, schools, libraries, medical, emergency,
Roads, railroads, pipelines, and other rightsof-way
Other Economic and
Existing business growth, health and location changes
New business locations
Investment and subsidy of telecommunications infrastructure
Public and private
Existing and new jobs
Banking, lending and investment
Educational level changes
Economic sector ratio changes
Healthcare and social services
Ethnic and racial diversity