Photos Spare Cycles MythBusters

Talk: Cities in the Information Age

Manuel Castells Talk at Berkeley

My notes on this talk are fairly poor. Much of what he talked about echoed what I am currently reading in his works, so skipped transcribing a lot of that.

Update: I'm enhancing my notes with those taken by peterme (he did a better job of transcribing Castell's actual phrasing). I've gotta run, but hopefully I'll get a final set of notes before my brain crashes.

Networks can connect and disconnect

Information Age: revolution in communication technology that started happening in the 70s

Technology does not determine society. Technology is society.

To study cities in the information age is to analyze the spatial form of the networked society in its deepest dimensions.

8 points of relationship between IT paradigm and dynamics of cities

Futurologists were wrong. The Internet hasn't lead to people moving out to the countryside and telecommuting to work. It did not transcend the separation between countryside and city. Instead, the pace of urbanization has increased. * this year the world surpassed the 50% urban ratio * Asia has the fastest rate of urbanization, in 25 years will be 50% * Africa will be 2/3 urban by 2020 * The largest wave of urbanization has occurred in the wake of the telecommunication revolution

This urbanization is different from past urbanizations. It simultaneously concentrates and decentralizes (enabled by electronic communication) people and activities

Metropolitan region

The spatial form of our times is the metropolitan region. * Simultaneous dispersal + reuniting through transportation networks. * Architecture of nodes and networks (organized around networks of communication and transportation) * worldwide phenomena

The global city (1st Connection)

  • old notion of global city: London, Tokyo, New York
  • new notion of global city: Global space made up of bits and pieces of cities throughout the world. Certain parts of a city are connected to rest of world (e.g. very local areas like Queens, Hampstead, Roppongi, Ginza). Every major city is part of this global city, not just the big three.

US falling behind in wireless communication. EU: 87% coverage. US: ~50% coverage.

In the US people are overlaying their own individualized communication systems (e.g. 802.11 networks). Big media has been unable to control and monetize these communications like they have in the past, mainly because people gravitate to what is free/stealable.

Wealth of Cities (2nd Connection)

Disparity between producers of knowledge and those who can't.

Cultural and organizational component critical in mileau of innovation

Innovation drives creation of material wealth

Information Age driven by urban culture, metropolitan areas, which is driving the current trend in urbanization.

Universities fundamental in innovation if (1) connected to metropolitan area (2) connected to global network of academia

Sociability (3rd Connection)

Internet + Sociability: there was a fear that the Internet/online identity would dissolve sociability as well as local spaces. 10 studies done, all agreeing, show that people live both online and offline in a hybrid pattern of sociability, the online communication is helping to facilitate offline, face-to-face communication. * In Mexico, 3% of households wired, but 20% of population accesses the Internet (wired cafes), and 50% of the urban population is online. * Network Individualism: Communicate face-to-face and online with people I want to communicate with. People on the Internet tend to be more sociable.

Barry Wellman and Keith Hampton

Experiment in Toronto where sociologists gave people free Internet access in exchange for being studied. People in the study using the Internet were more social, had more local interactions. When the study was over, the people used their local connections to lobby to get their Internet restored.

Digital Divide (4th Point of Connection?)

Third World: Digital Divide is problem of access

Western world: access is not the greatest problem. Broadband is the technical problem. * US: 60% online, diffusing particularly below the age of 50. * Broadband access is a major problem of the Digital Divide, as it is important for accessing public services (e.g. health services, distance learning) online. * Issue is also what to do -- where to find information, what to do with it, which information to use.

The Internet can unite and divide. * Internet does not eliminate inequality or poverty * For gifted/well-educated, Internet had great returns for learning * For less educated or "slower learners" it can amplify inequalities (really need to follow up to understand what he means by this). Problem with Internet and education.

Identity and Meaning (5th point of Connection)

People use the Internet to build, project identity. Less that 3% of people are faking their identity (mostly teenagers who are trying to figure out who they are), so it's not really a problem.

Place-based identity still important, online identity has not displaced this. People use their place-based identity when they go online.

Local (e-)government (6th Point of Connection)

Use of online communication for government way behind in the US. In Europe there is a transition to running/managing the city online (permits, planning, management). Even garbage collection in Catalan can be scheduled online. Allows the government to manage information in real-time (transformational).

Urban social movements: networked social movements (7th Point of Connection)

Social movements are networked

Anti-globalization movement: local movements connected globally (important attribute of these movements)

Autonomous grassroots bypass traditional political avenues/forms of participation.

Can start a social movement by yourself, with just a cellphone + SMS (send a message to 10 friends, they each send to 10 more)

Example: March 2004, Spain, after the al Qaeda bombings. There was little time before the election, and the media was reporting the government line about it being Basque terrorists. Youth movement started outside of the media and ended up changing the course of the election.

Politicians don't quite yet understand this new media of communication. Prime Minister Berlusconi spammed millions of Italian citizens with SMS prior to the election. People saw this as an invasion of privacy and it is believed there was a backlash effect in the election results.

People doing this are not organized -- flash/instant organization. Not the end of grassroots organization, but changing its form to something more ephemeral. Form and disband as needed.

Environmental Issues (8th Point of Connection)

Not new, but technology and science allows us to project better. Use to identify problems and support. Metropolitan area development being contested by economic groups, boosters, not-in-my-backyard syndrome, forward-thinking environmentalists, etc...

Metropolitan region (Defining the emerging spatial form)

  • Not just a big area.
  • Constellation of settlements, population and activites, large expanse of territories, no name, no authority. Extremely diverse.
  • Organized around transportation networks
  • No clear institutional authority
  • Network pattern of many urban centers

Not always what you expect: the largest metropolitan area in the SF metro region is San Jose.

Europe is connecting huge expanses. Centers become connected. Paris/London now hour and a half apart. Airline travel is nearly obsolete (opposite of US).

Three (ideal) modalities: LA, Mexico City, Barcelona

LA * Ultimate metropolitan region (Ventura to Tijuana) * Up Against the Sprawl * Multi-nuclear (e.g. Santa Monica, Pasadena) * Importance of highways (freeway-automobile complex) * Industry both concentrated and dispersed (Defense in OC, movies in Culver, Burbank studios, Santa Monica multimedia) * Multi-ethnic, but not mixed. Problem of increasing segregation, self-segregation by the rich. Ghettos of rich people. * Real estate a big driver of growth, driver of spatial patterning. Land occupation moving into the desert, sprawling out to Santa Barbara and San Diego * Very little central organization (weak metro control). Local regions can't control overall development/sprawl/stress. Widespread environmental destruction.

Mexico City * Informal city at heart of the process (city produced informally, formalized by political process) * Lawless process of urbanization * Illegal systems become regularized (shantytowns) * Development of mass transit dependent on special interests and kickbacks (hence, not really a mass transit *system) * Segmentation -> fragmentation * Middle class won't go certain places * Southern Mexico City disconnected * Rampant criminal activity. Hard to fix because police/State are part of the problem. Criminality is the state.

Barcelona * "Catalonia City": spatial unit is Catalonia, not Barcelona * Everything within one and half hours * Big cities of ~200-300K, all connected (multi-nuclear) * Vitality of public space as a key element * Even in immigrant areas, public spaces are built * High density (leads to more efficient social services) * Street-level commerce * Mass transit: affordable taxis, autos optional * Hyper-communication through mobile communication: 92% coverage. * Ad-hoc cellular meetup strategy in social gathering (I believe the pattern is expressing itself just about everywhere with cellphones) * Strong street life (high density, many people around, safe, though pickpockets "income distribution") * Institutional management (strong local, but main power is association of local governments) * Success problem: people selling city to tourism * Native population is old with strong identity that doesn't accept immigrants (either gotta have children, or accept immigrants)


No turning back. We are in a mega metropolitan world.

Wealth of cities depends on innovation, knowledge, human resources, connectivity

Three issues emerge 1) Ability to manage multi-modal communication channels (e.g. transit and telecommunication) 2) High density makes social services more efficient. Necessary. 3) Public space is core of urban social life. Distributed everywhere (not just one square here, another square there), each neighborhood, all classes.

Therefore: 1) planning mobility and connectivity through inter-modality (telecommunications, transportation, commerce) 2) Environmental planning as a holistic understanding of the various dimensions of human settlements, using sci+tech to increase quality of life. 3) Urban design + architecture to mark spaces symbolically. Not just monuments, meaningful architecture (e.g. public works such as airports, bridges)

Ultimately this depends on the political capacity to act on society at large, not just interest groups.

Urban innovation and social change will have to push government and people, rather that being the result of politicians. Alliance between professional and concerned citizens needed.

Solve just like technology innovation: if you want a btter urban life, invent it, then fight for it.

Comments (2)


Very interesting. I've often thought about the way the internet can transform your social networks. I'm interested in the "Network Individualism." Before the internet and instantaneous communication across large distances, our social networks and cliques were confined to the immediate physical space around us. Our friends were only a few minutes away and our activities revolved around the local. But with the rise of things such as blogs, online forums, and e-mail, those limitations are breaking down. The Diplomacy game is a good example of that. One player lives in Williamsburg, two in the Bay area, and four in Northern Virginia. Yet we are all able to (theoretically) negotiate tactics and play what is essentially a board game.


Volume II of his Information Age as well as his Internet Galaxy work deals with this, but I'm still on Volume I :). I'm sure I'll be more cogent once I read those.

To me, a key idea is that people are naturally homophilic - we seek out that which is like us. Without the Internet, our network is limited by our transportation networks, i.e. that which we are close to. With the Internet, we are better able to seek out people representing our interests/identity, whether it be to play Diplomacy, or it be texting during a baseball playoff match :).

As a side note, I am still a bit amazed by the number of people you see on cellphones when you watch a baseball game, or when you go to a concert. People are, via ad-hoc communications, projecting physical spaces virtually outward, a role that has traditionally been fulfilled by big media. In the case of the baseball game, you can have one person at the game and one person watching on TV, in effect complementing the big media experience (substituting their own audio in place of the TV's audio). In the case of the concert, you have one person at the concert circumventing big media, which refuses to broadcast that event. It does, in effect, create a social event where previously physical distance was a limiting factor.

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