Technological Change (2005)


Note from the Editors:

Cities are products of proximity, and few things influence our need for proximity as much as technological innovation. The car, the telephone and the computer have all brought distant places closer, and reduced our need to be near one another. The steady advance of transportation and communication technology, and the decline in urban density that has accompanied it, has informed a longstanding and pessimistic idea in urban studies: that technology will wipe out cities. Le Corbusier imagined highways and highrises that would render the metropolis obsolete. In 1964 Lewis Mumford said the automobile would destroy the city. In 1992 Joel Garreau said the fax machine would.

And yet cities persist. The relationships between technology, the economy and society are more complicated than either the doomsayers or dreamers would have it. Technology pulls as well as pushes. Technological innovations allow us to live apart, but the act of innovating, paradoxically, requires that we be together. The challenge of technology is not that it will unravel cities, but that its benefits will reach some but not others, and that its costs will fall hardest on those who benefit least.

In this twelfth issue of Critical Planning we take on the question of how technological change affects people in cities. In our first article, Stuart C. Strother critically evaluates the idea of the “digital divide.” Using a case study of Louisville, Kentucky, he argues that the divide is caused less by unequal access to technology, and more by unequal rates of technology adoption.

Ashok Das offers a slightly different take on the digital divide in his interview with the staff of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK). The CNK staff discuss their efforts to make the Internet more relevant to disadvantaged groups, and they focus in particular on the Net’s potential to empower both low-income people and people with disabilities.

A second form of digital divide is addressed by Christopher V. Hawkins, in his article on the importance of human capital. Today’s labor market increasingly rewards those with education and technological skills, and increasingly neglects those who lack them. The rise of this “knowledge economy,” Hawkins argues, demands increased investments in human capital, which can help both poor people and poor regions.

Technology’s impact on cities is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the field of transportation. If any one force governs daily urban life, it may be the uneasy tension between the car, the built environment, and the people who use both. In David King’s interview with David Levinson, Levinson describes the difficulties of providing mobility and access to all members of the metropolis, and speculates as to what the future of transport innovation might hold.

Technological change often leads to political unrest. Progress by definition uproots established institutions and threatens existing ways of life. The industrial revolution in Britain was no exception, and E. Joanna Guldi’s article examines the changing role that riots played during the turbulent years of England’s industrialization. Although at first sanctioned by custom, riots later came to be seen as threats to private property, and were brutally suppressed. Guldi contends that Britain’s experience with riots holds lessons for our own tumultuous times, particularly as cities grapple with the regulation of public space.

While the benefits of technology are often broadly dispersed across the population, its costs are often concentrated on a minority. Progress is for this reason frequently accompanied by locational conflict—the topic of our last two articles.

First, In Kwon Park analyzes the relationship between local autonomy and conflicts over nuclear power plants in South Korea. She finds that increases in local autonomy led to longer and more severe conflicts between local residents and the central government.

Second, Alvaro Huerta reports from South Gate, an impoverished city already burdened with numerous sources of pollution, where activists and community members rallied to defeat a proposed natural gas power plant.

Our issue is rounded out by two review essays. Daniel Freedman takes on the topic of water scarcity, while Enrique Gualberto Ramirez searches for coherence in the spaces of both sprawl and the World Wide Web.

Much of the work that goes into Critical Planning is done by our review board and our outside reviewers, as well as by our production staff. We extend our thanks to them, and also to our funders: the UCLA Department of Urban Planning, the UCLA Graduate Students’ Association, the Ralph and Goldy Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, and the Dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs.

— Michael Manville

Table of Contents:

Unequal Access or Consumer Preference? An Economic and Geographic Analysis of the Digital Divide in One U.S. City
Stuart C. Strother

Transforming Community Planning through Technology: A Conservation with the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (pdf)
Ashok Das

Human Capital Development as an Economic Development Strategy: The Case of Workforce Plus
Christopher V. Hawkins

Technology and Transportation: A Conversation with David Levinson
David King

Chaos Creation and Crowd Control: Models of Riot Regulation, 1700 to 2005
E. Joanna Guldi

Local Autonomy and Conflicts over State Projects: The Case of the Yeonggwang Nuclear Power Plants (pdf)
In Kwon Park

South Gate, CA: Environmental Racism Defeated In a Blue-Collar Latino Suburb
Alvaro Huerta

Book Review: Waste Not, Want Not
Daniel Freedman

Book Review: Imaginary and Banal Spaces: Guides for Contemplating Cities and Technology (pdf)
Enrique Gualberto Ramirez