Marching Towards Cyber City - A Planning Perspective


S.P. Sekar*



Spread of Cities on account of technological advancement in transportation and telecommunications and myriad of other factors has challenged the "Distance Decay" concept vis-à-vis the size and spatial distribution of urban areas, though zeroing of "time and space" distance is yet to be realized in reality. Emergence of the concept of "Cyber City" potentially turns tangible city into intangible, hard to soft and materialistic to eternal one. This leads to a radical thinking of the "way city works". In the context of "Cyber City" becoming inevitable, how far it would make the activities "foot loose" on locations as against the traditional distance decay function? This study focuses on classifying the sensitivity of land-use pattern and social interaction that would come into play on the invading world of "Cyber City". It is also to account the urban knowledge in the context of spatial structure of cities. This study is aimed to investigate various components of Cyber City that causes flexibility over "physical distance" and "time" in making interactions of activities in the city-space; also to suggest a methodology to capture urban knowledge on long-term basis over changing characteristics of city-space with varying exposure of Cyber City. The growing sensitivity of Cyber City is measured: one, in terms of size and frequency of usage of digital network and its trends with the attributes that would likely to explain the group-wise characteristics on the adoption of Cyber City tools; second identification of sensitivity of changes in land-use pattern; third, the changing nature of social interaction through digital network or otherwise and its efficacy on social value as well as implications on urban planning process.

* Dr. S.P. Sekar, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, Chennai 600 025, India. E-Mail: or






1. Introduction

Agglomeration of population and activities in the cities are the major catalysts for rapid urbanization process. In spatial term, the urban structure was so understood that the city center acted as a node of attracting prime activities and others spread around it. Until recently this center piece of spatial structure of city was taken for granted(Gordon P and Richardson H W 1997). This concept, in the view of the development in the recent decades development, had vitiated on account of economic and environmental consequence paving way for polycentric cities. Due to spread of cities on account of technological advancement in transportation and telecommunications and, myriad of other factors, the cities are compelled to grow with more poly-centers. However, the "distance decay" function continues to govern the number, size and spatial distribution of such sub-centers in a given urban area (Liggett H and Perry D C 1995). The time and physical distance are considered major impediments in determining the spatial interaction of activities and people (Sen A and Smith T E 1995). Hence, "distance" fundamentally formed the part of the foundation stone in building spatial form of city, as gravity rules the mass movement. Calibrating models, assessing basic service needs and urban planning are primarily based on this corner stone of spatial thinking(Batty M 1976).


2. Spatial Shrinkage and Planning in the Information age


Introduction of information technology had considerable amount of shift in consolidating the understanding of the urban form. Chiefly, there are two faces of information technology that are making impact on urban environment: One, the computers per se allowed the researchers to build models, simulate the developments and correlate complex relationships of urban activities. Second relates to the digital city which characterized a city of Virtual Reality(VR)using the computers as "windows" with fully wired world(Batty M 1997). By means of VR, the actual physical context becomes more negligible and spatially virtually interact on wire. Thus emerges the concept of "Cyber City" which potentially turns tangible city to intangible, hard to soft and materialistic to eternal city (Batty M 1998).


This manifestation of information technology as Cyber City has many implications on city activities. The spatial context of city activities that was so active in determining the distribution of activities over city-scape ceased to be less active( Drucker P F 1989).For example, major supermarket that serves the neighborhood no longer need to be located with better physical access on a prime urban land, as electronic market makes customers to access the commodity to look and order from home. It is no less in the working environment as well (Obermeyer N J 1990). As information technology recently allowed to work remotely, social contacts through video conferencing are already established. These developments are seen in almost all spheres of development.(Postman N 1992). People need not move that often; offices, shops, markets can be located with less physical access but with better digital access, though the implications of these developments on the evolution of urban structure are many (Edgington D W 1989), That is to say, the jerk introduced by Cyber City on land use pattern, urban economic structure and social interactions are slowly but steadily moderating predominantly the city Ė scape, though the overall spatial impact on earth as a whole is also not ruled out.


3. Components of Information Tools (IT) and Shrinkage of Space


The availability, usage, density and the type of IT tools that impact the spatial / temporal shrinkage are varying over places. Space (in terms of distance) and "time" are the basic denominators to measure the shrinkage. Any given activity, for instance, to reach a place from "x" to "Y" or communicate a message consumes time to cross "distance". Consider a message to be passed on from one person to another, without ITís help, the person "A" has to physically reach the person "B" and, convey the message; relative time taken is high, delivery of message is definite and the message is passed on face to face. On the other hand, if "A" write a letter to "B". In this case time taken in the process is again high, delivery of message is not definite and message is passed through paper media and therefore, the impact of message delivery is passive. Hence, the component of IT tools that cross over distance(space) and the consumption of "time" determine the impact as well spatial shrinkage. Fig. 2.1. depicts some of the common IT tools and their impacts on space, time and sensitivity of delivery.

Fig. 2.1. IT tools and their impact on Space, Time and Sensitivity of Delivery

Type of IT tools/ impact on





Video Conferencing

Mobile phone

Virtual reality

















Sensitivity of delivery









It would be interesting to visualize a model of shrinkage of generalized group of places. This model considers three major components of spatial shrinkage. They are: one, IT tools and their available density in a given place; second, magnitude of cyber space and constraints of physical mobility.(Fig.3.1). This in general provides four groups of places/spaces: Group one(GI) represents places where the IT tools density is low, having low profile of cyber space and high constraints of physical mobility, whereas group III (GIII)represents other extreme where IT density is high, very high profile of cyber space and reduced constraints of physical mobility. Group IV (GIV) are the places where the IT intensity , cyber space profile and constrains are moderate. Group II is a special kind of places where the intensity of IT tools is high, but with low profile of cyber space and high constraints of physical mobility. These are the places where the socio-economic factors divide the population into groups of "IT haves" and "IT have-nots". For "IT haves", the physical mobility is low and the cyber space profile is high. In the context of varying density of IT tools and their impact over "space" and "time", there are two major areas of concern for planners. One, would there be impacts of IT tools on the land use pattern, specially, on cities; and second, IT, as tools to better understand and manoeuvre the society and, to that effect, planning profession.


To call specific issues, for example, number of IT companies opening and already operating, what is called "virtual offices"(The Hindu 2001) Virtual offices allow work arrangements that yield varying degree of presence of workers in the "physical office". Workers are location-independent and are free in mobility and still efficiently attend to their job functions. The working arrangements are range of remote logging, telecommunicating,





mobile offices, wireless application protocol (WAP), and some cases virtually no physical office at all. Reduction in visit of worker to office in turn reduces real estate cost of office, overhead expenditure as well to locate it foot loose anywhere paves way for economically operating the offices. (This leads to a new manifestation of land use and location theory of cities). On the other hand, "home office" individually demands certain additional space to operate, and certain additional "gadgets" that enable "digital connectivity". Will it lead to a new kind of locational agglomeration of residences that attracts people of "digital connectivity" look for places and space that enables better digital community (Sista W 2001) in which case demand for such a space (place) would be inevitable.



4. Cyber City and Urban Land use Pattern


The focus of research analysis that requires emphasis at the juncture of Cyber City that manipulates "physical distance" by "digital distance" is under severe speculation. In the context of Cyber City becoming inevitable, how far it would make the activities to foot loose on location as against the traditional distance decay function? Recent developments of Geographic Information System (GIS), digital city and INTERNET which are considered as key segments of Cyber City, are taken as the basis for current assessment. It rules that digital connectivity such as INTERNET, tele-shopping, video-conferencing and VR between persons and places are found to have considerably conquered the physical distance. That means, physical distance between people and places no longer is a hindrance for interaction as long as they are digitally connected. However, the magnitude of such an input on many walks of life in the city need not be the same. A research focused on classifying the sensitivity of land use pattern on the introduction of Cyber City would be an asset in the direction of consolidating urban knowledge in the context of spatial structure of cities (Campbell H 1996).


5. Cyber City and Social Implications


Social implications of introduction of Cyber City have many facets(Pickles J 1995). The critical factor of them is the "field of contact" that a person establishes in a given technology and a cityscape. The field of contact of a person grows exponentially as and when a technological invention in communication area occurs( Patkar V N 1985). Introduction of VR, allows to contact "person to person" or "place to place" instantaneously. However, such contacts increase more impersonal, and intangible interactions. How far this tendency is validated for better social value? (Dunlop C and Kling R 1991). How long a person enjoys visiting web site of, say, a city park or a mountain or a beach? Though a visit to web sites, such as above, delivers variety of information and knowledge, it is still an abstract place fail to give real physical touch, melody, size, dimensions smell etc.

It is to be investigated whether increased elements of personalized contact and living in a abstract Cyber City is socially desirable tendency, though at present digital interaction is enthusiastic which is now new to users and provide extra privacy with instant information exchange on passive mode. Contrarily, Cyber City offers no parallel tool if the intention of the user is to avoid personal contact and personalized information exchange. It is however rarely investigated if the opinions of the current customer segments of Cyber City, such as INTERNET and VR on the benefit or otherwise of the social intractability of digital network. Criticality of such an investigation is to be seen with the trend at which digital network is expanding. Conclusions drawn from the current customers of the digital network do add value to the urban knowledge as the future of the city is going to be more digital, abstract rather tangible and real world.


Another dimension of the social impact of cyber city is in the sphere of employment. It should be noted that cyber city offers more scope for location independent jobs and mobile offices. Therefore, opportunity of a "digitally connected" person to work for selective but multi-office is more but Implication of which is rather critical as it may widen the income gap.


6. Summary


It is seen that IT tools enable spatial shrinkage considerably. Its impacts are seen at three levels; One, relative reference of "physical space" and "digital space"; secondly, it is potential that cyber space does change the balance of so far known land use patterns of urban area; thirdly, digital interactions among people in the place of traditional "face to face" interaction would attract different social order. It is a serious question of investigating sensitivity of land use pattern and social interaction on the interaction of cyber city and it would be an asset in the direction of consolidating urban knowledge in the context of traditional spatial structure of cities. Research questions in this direction are: if the cyber city becomes inevitable, (i) how for it would make the activities to foot loose on location as against the traditional distance decay function? (ii) the efficacy of cyber city on social value especially with "haves" and "have-nots" and (iii)their economics and social status in the society.




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