"Infosphere" - a challenge for future.

By Kudryavtsev F.S.

Traditionally a planner was trying to produce an order in otherwise chaotic space of human settlements. Although this postulate remains constant the complexity of urban development has been gradually growing. In turn this forced to change and somehow to adapt a planning process too. But whatever changes happened in space there was a "backbone" that constituted a planning as decision making process - hierarchically organized data circulation system, starting form data collection and finishing with plan that in turn was a subject of monitoring. That inner order was a prerequisite of introducing order in an urban fabric. In comparison with other matters of urban management, i.e. green spaces or transportation networks, this system was practically out of direct pressure from a real world. But things may change. IT development starts to transform the "outer space" of planning - available data on an urban society - in an absolutely new way. And the information environment in which a planner have to act will soon radically change too. The fundamental shift here is that instead of an emptiness with a scattered sources of information to be searched and interpreted a new dense virtual space full of data - an "infosphere" - will come to existence. Innumerable data produced through people-to-people, people -to-object and object-to-object communications become a mirror of a real space available on-line. The point is not a new technical infrastructure itself but a quantity and mode of data transmitting influencing a group or person that have to make a decision. The following main features of that new environment can be identified: - No limits to grow in terms of data multiplication. The structure of the infosphere looks identical to one of natural processes: it is hardly possible to find a hierarchy, any bit of information has equal status. It's something like a liquid or gas that has no rigid structure. -High speed of data input and updating In many cases we can speak about its shrinking to zero (i.e. web cameras, or data coming from chipsets in technical systems, etc.). -Chaotic and spontaneous character of data input. There are no regulations, it is difficult to predict what new data can be find out there tomorrow. -Easy data sharing. An information, constituting an infosphere easily spreads and is shared by means of integration of technical media: integrated computer networks, communication systems, mass madia. How does this affect a planning? At a first glance a planning will profit of that. There will be no need to collect data in field - all will be in place and a planner will need simply to retrieve it. Then to analyze, to make alternatives and the like. And the only problem will be a more powerful computer. Nevertheless it seems that a challenge will be more serious. And it rises from infosphere features pointed out before. Hierarchical structure of planning process in comparison with network structures providing existence of an infosphere (Internet and Intranet, etc.) is less flexible and less able to grow up. Thus inevitably quantity of information producing and available in infoshere will grow faster than capability to analyze it. Thus function of control will be practically lost, and any reaction will always be late. The long story of adaptation of planning to development will have no choice to continue through simple optimization of an existent linear decision-making. Besides an infosphere is (or will be) not only simply a source of information. In reality it becomes an alternative management tool that streamlines and organizes urban development much stronger and faster than a planning decisions. Incredibly multiplying communications an infoshere will accelerate developing of mass behavior models of actors beyond the planning system. It becomes to be something like a "collective mind", whose decision-making principle will be not a reducing of information by means of analysis, but a summarizing of all ever found solutions and spreading out most effective ones. The problem is that very often that effectiveness can be proved only from the local scale point of view. Being applied as mass models these local changes may affect city as a whole in not a right way. So urban development trends and first of all tendencies in land-use alteration will be generated faster and more intensive while plans will become outdated with the same speed. Sequence of steps of planning decision-making will also be injured by impulse character of information transmitting. Nobody can guarantee that tomorrow a new information not to destroy just duly developed plan. The outlines of possible alternatives will be created in real space and reflected in infospere more rapidly then in planners' projects. So finally planners will be "attacked" with huge, constantly changing, coming on-line and never ending information flux, where they can not jump out. And surely new databases, GIS and other data processing systems will be called up to help. But as long as a person will need to make a final decision - a plan - a hierarchy, topped with a human brains of concrete people will be necessary. And their abilities to arrive at a solution will stay as it had been century ago while the quantity of information will multiply and time to think will disappear. Breakdowns in decision- making will have two major consequences - reducing realm of planning and diminishing positive effect of plans' implementation. Thus instead of creating an "outer" order - it's principal function - planners will be trying to cope with a disorder in their own projects. There is also another aspect of changing position of a planner due to infosphere development. For a long time new town planning ideas have been offered by professionals and then introduced in practice. Ideas like functional zoning, linear cities, etc., are examples of an active interference in a real life. It seems to be that a new age will abandon planners monopoly to suggest new forms of space organization as those forms will be stated through direct communications between "suppliers" and "consumers" of urban spaces. In some extend a good illustration of that phenomena can be found in a new master plan of Moscow adopted two years ago. According to plan three types of zoning were introduced - correspondingly constraining type and volume of functional usage, bulk of buildings and forms of landscaping. Not to fall down into details it is possible to formulate its main strategy as "preservation" of nature, open spaces, fresh air., etc. While main factors influencing urban life remain out of control: inward immigration, chaotic construction of multistory buildings, shrinking of greenery and air pollution due to boom in automobile market. There are at least several new types of spaces, that I consider to be spontaneously developed as result of those factors: an open markets (food, construction materials, cars); 15-20-storey residential buildings for high income people in places, considered to be most ecologically friendly; industrial sites converted in some kind of optional storages. It doesn't mean that they were constructed without permission, but it means their main features and options for site development were identified without planner as an intermediary. It is said that Internet eliminates intermediaries - and in many cases planner is not an exception. Nevertheless even if that forecast comes true the need in optimization of space structure will remain as a human nature will not go digitally. Especially it concerns all kind of infrastructure - as long as there will be water-, energy- and whatever else supply and transportation networks, a traditional planning system will be necessary untill all buildings will not be sustainable ones. We shall still need physical space to live in. So the problem is to find a new, not rigidly hierarchical model of decision-making process that will fit in infoshere conditions. Unfortunately, I can not propose a solution right here and now. But a possible way to find out might be again in new possibilities of an infosphere. First of all it concerns an openness of data transmitting that may allow to bridge a gap between development and planning. A planning process could be a part of infosphere and somehow use data available there in order to synchronize planning and a real time urban life. Besides planners will probably get a new advantage through infosphere to see a ready model of a city that they never could have before. At least there have to be enough data for that with little cost for its updating. Consequently, a possible future structure of a planning system will include at least three independent information systems communicating each other. A main principle here will be similar to one developed for example in a military aircraft industry: many problems are easier to solve without pilot than with him. Therefor collecting of data will be a generally automatic process implementing through open databases connected with infosphere. A software able to analyse constantly coming information will constitute next level. Possibly it can be based on cognitive technologies, i.e. neurosystems. This level have to be able to identify mass models of land-use alteration "ripping" in urban community. Those two levels will constitute a "membrane" that will automatically filter incoming information. And the third one will need a planner as person who considers possible consequences of mass behavior models through juxtaposition of a current physical structure with a coming new ones. It might looks strange but I think that probably one of the most important infospere features - ability to communicate data directly to any number of "users" - can served as a planning tool. Once upon a time an old and respected planning professional, participated in developing of many Russian industrial cities with a population over 1, 000, 000 people, said to me that if the authorities show maps of environment pollution to citizens the latter will be shocked as there would be no good place to live in. They were afraid as such an information would have been a strong motive to act. Another and a well known example is realtors' manipulations with a demand on a market through mass media by every day saying about raising prices and boom. Why not to use infosphere to reorganize our communication medium and not to be connected directly with our "users" - citizens? And the last but not least. Having got a new comprehensive view of an urban life planners might search a new ways to make an order following rules of self-organization that apply to all open and non-linear systems. IT networks and its consequence - an infoshere - will do connect all actors and transform them in such a system. The principle of a new planning then could be one that has been stated by Prof. Kurdumov, one of a leading Russian scientist in a field of system analysis: "There will be enough to push inner forces and a nature will create a necessary structure. You need only to know potentials of this structure and how to stimulate them". I hope that new information age let us know that.