Information and communications technologies (ICT) have been radically changing the way we work, do business, socialize, learn, and play. ICTs have also been affecting cities and the spatial arrangements of activities within cities. City boundaries are no longer physical; rather communications technology defines the extent of a city. It is not just highways that connect cities, rather it is the conventional telephone networks (the so-called landline phone), cable networks, mobile telephone, Internet, satellite communication systems and data and video networks that are creating extensible information highways. Newer ways of working (teleworking), changes in nature of jobs from manufacturing to information intensive services and knowledge economies such as law, accounting, management, auditing, consulting, publishing and tutoring demand investment in ICT infrastructure and the 24×7 availability of connectivity. Mobile technologies and the easy availability of mobile devices imply that the potential to do business, interact and learn is no longer to be limited to a place and a time. The place is “here” and the time is “now”. With the transformation of cities from manufacturing centers to knowledge centers, the cities have to undergo colossal changes. Many studies have been conducted on the impact of telecommunications revolution on urban development and planning, one of these being Manuel Castells’ “The Rise of the Network Society” (Oxford.: Blackwell, 1996).
Urban planning and development must now take into consideration the fact that information and communications technologies are here to stay. The purpose of this paper is to explore how the proliferation of computer-based telecommunications networks is affecting the social, cultural and economic aspects in cities. A few case studies discuss the initiatives taken by local bodies to ensure the developments in ICT percolate down to their citizens, businesses and institutions. Information and telecommunications infrastructures in certain Indian metros are discussed and the scope for further ICT infrastructure development is explored.
The Neglect of ICT infrastructure in Urban planning
While transportation system has been given the importance it deserves in urban planning, the same cannot be said of ICT. Communications technologies are not always “visible” as, say the highways, shopping malls, electric power plants, water supply systems, sanitation systems, etc. Communications technologies are not always noticeable; they are always, “somewhere there”, out of sight. Cables laid underground do not attract attention in the day-to-day activities. As long as telephone networks work, they do not attract any attention. Due to this, information and communications technologies are generally not on the agenda of urban planning. The “inevitability” of technology implies that questions of local policy and planning tend to be ignored.
Incorporating ICT into Cities
ICT was supposed to free us from the constraints of “place”. With everyone wired digitally, you could work from anywhere. However, this did not happen. People did not take up hi-tech work from rural areas, although theoretically it was possible. What we find today is that creative, highly educated and skilled workers are moving to the cities. People are choosing cities that suit their life-styles. What needs to be done is to integrate the policies of telecommunications, transport, education, health, governance and other infrastructure.
Transportation System and ICT
The Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) (www.itsa.org) program is a worldwide initiative to add information and communications technology to transport infrastructure and vehicles. It aims to manage factors that are typically at odds with each other such as vehicles, loads, and routes to improve safety and reduce vehicle wear, transportation times, and fuel costs . Intelligent transportation systems use ICT for traffic light control systems, vehicle tracking system, speed cameras, variable message signs e.g., traffic updates, best available routes. More advanced systems integrate live data from a number of sources such as traffic signals, weather information, etc. Embedded systems allow for sophisticated applications to be implemented on chips. Almost all modern vehicles contain many such chips, which can be integrated with data from other sources.
Mobile phones are all pervasive. Almost all motorists travel with a mobile phone. Since a mobile phone is always in contact with a base station, these phones can be used as anonymous traffic probes. As a vehicle moves the mobile phone network can track its position. Data from several such vehicles can be converted into accurate traffic flow information. Since the distance between mobile tower antennas is less in urban areas, the accuracy is more. This technique does not call for any substantial investment – the existing mobile phone network is used.
Traffic flow measurement using video cameras is a form of vehicle detection that is non-intrusive. These video cameras are installed on poles or structures adjacent to the roadways. A video detection processor system can detect traffic simultaneously from 6-8 cameras. The forms of detection are: vehicle speeds, lane occupancy, stopped vehicles, vehicles traveling along the wrong direction, lane cutting. ICT also makes possible automatic electronic toll collection. RFID devices mounted on the vehicle could speed up the process of toll collection.
Many municipal corporations use an Automatic Vehicle Tracking System (AVTS) with the objective of monitoring solid waste management fleet movement. This system uses a combination of GPS, GIS and GSM to automatically track and record fleets’ field activities. A vehicle tracking system consists of three units: (a) In-vehicle unit, (b) a base station, and (c) a communication link. Data is transmitted to a central computer via the communication link. Data can be analyzed in real time. The potential benefits are:
- Position data of vehicle at specified intervals.
- Stoppage time at each designated bin point can be easily known.
- Storing vehicle data for future analysis.
- Periodic and exception reports.
These variable messaging boards provide information about traffic diversions, traffic congestions, etc.
Telecommuting is also known as teleworking; it is working from a remote location using computers and Internet connectivity. Telecommuting has been growing at 15% a year in North America since 1990. There are many benefits to telecommuting such as: reduced expenses for office and related support functions, and reduced travel time for employees. Telecommuting offers immense opportunities for women. The Government should provide assistance by way of loans and training to encourage teleworking. Telecommuting could also translate into environmental benefits. TRAI has identified telecommuting as one of the stimulants for speeding up broadband and Internet usage. The advent of 5G will speed up this sector of economy.
E-governance or electronic governance may be defined as delivery of government services and information to the public using electronic means. Use of IT in government facilitates an efficient, speedy and transparent process for disseminating information to the public and other agencies, and for performing government administration activities.
Government websites must provide the content. This is through e-governance. Content in regional languages should be the main thrust. Open source software could help the governments in this respect.
Smart buildings are those that are equipped with a robust telecommunications infrastructure. This increases the security and comfort level of its occupants. Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning (HVAC), energy/lighting management, fire safety are the benefits provided by these intelligent buildings.
Telecommunications infrastructure is now treated as a “must-have” in new constructions. Indeed, in the twenty-first century, buildings and homes will be judged by their intelligent infrastructure.
ICT is also affecting even activities that occur in distinctly urban settings such as a shopping complex, hotels, railway stations, bus stops, airports, and restaurants. A customer can conduct business while waiting for a flight; the number of Wi-Fi spots (hot-spots) in these places is growing.
What more should be done?
ICT can be used to enable the people and it can also create a gap between the haves and the have-nots. Information is now as important as the other basic necessities such as food, cloth and shelter. Access to information and communications technologies can be provided by: community access, information kiosks at public places such as railway stations, hotels, airports, and government offices.
The process of urbanization and the extremely rapid application of information and communications technologies are interrelated. As society depends more and more on ICT for many of its activities, there is a need to make ICT infrastructure an essential component of urban planning and development. Just as availability of raw material, cheap labour and industrial technology is important for manufacturing industry, similarly, the cities of the future will require information management, knowledge workers, and telecommunications infrastructure. Power backup and multiple service providers for data and telecommunications are important. ICT is not a panacea for all the problems that our country faces, but ICT can certainly act as a catalyst in the social and economic development process.