Advisory Council on Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment

in the Netherlands




Somewhere between fact and fiction……


Review of developments in information and communication technology (ICT) and the consequences for policies on housing, spatial planning, the environment and traffic and transport


Contribution to the IsoCaRP 2001 Congress - Utrecht










Summary by Peter W.F. Petrus, June 2001

Based on ‘Tussen feit en fictie’, verkenning van ontwikkelingen in de informatie- en communicatietechnologie en de mogelijke gevolgen voor het beleid inzake wonen, ruimtelijke ordening, milieu en mobiliteit, Achtergrondstudie 008 VROM-raad.

This review has been prepared by a working group of the Council chaired by prof. I.S. Sariyildiz and was assisted by the secretariat of the Council, project leader P.W.F. Petrus. Project assistant: mrs. Joke Reedijk. Translation in the englisch language: Dave Hardy. The original complete text is available in english. The literature study which was also carried out is available in the Dutch language only.

VROM-raad, Koningin Julianaplein 2, PO box 30949 – IPC 105, 2500 GX The Hague, The Netherlands. Tel. +31 70 339 1505, fax. +31 70 339 1970, e-mail: vromraad@vromraad.cs.minvrom.nl, internet www.vromraad.nl










1 Introduction *

2 ICT, society and the living environment *

2.1 ICT, a concept and a process *

2.2. Globalisation and the new economy *

2.3. Can anything be influenced…...? *

3 Problem formulation *

I. What are the effects of ICT on patterns of behaviour in society? *

II. How do ICT, policy and policy implementation interact? *

4 Agenda for advice *

4.1 ICT and society *

4.2 ICT and the living environment *

4.2.1 ICT, housing and employment *

4.2.2 ICT and spatial planning *

4.2.3 ICT and the environment *

4.2.4 ICT, traffic and transport *

4.3 ICT and living environmental policy guidance *








1 Introduction

The Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment is considering a request for advice on the influence of ICT on the living environment and related policies of the Dutch government.

The Advisory Council on Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (hereafter to be referred to as ‘the Council’) arrived at the opinion that the consequences in society of ICT are so complex and uncertain that an advice should be preceded by a review of the subject. This contribution to the IsoCaRP Congres is a summary of this review, which was submitted to the Minister in March of this year.

With this review the Council wishes to set an agenda for an advice. In order to review the problem formulation in chapter 3, a literature study was carried out into the actual developments regarding ICT. Furthermore two expert meetings were organised, one devoted to ICT and spatial planning, and one devoted to ICT, the environment and public policy.

2 ICT, society and the living environment

2.1 ICT, a concept and a process

ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology. It is the technology whereby information in a dematerialised form can be processed and transferred. In the short term the introduction of UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) will determine telecommunication infrastructure. This infrastructure will make broad band data transport possible largely via a cable network. In the longer term data transmission will take place via wireless, mobile transmitters (Global Positioning System). Improvement will then have been made to broad band and rich sensory virtual communication.

This dissemination of intelligence will begin in the urban environment which can meet requirements of scale and concentration. As the remote controlled (satellite) links become more dominant it will be possible to become detached from familiar location patterns.


If we look back over 15 years to today then we are looking at the ICT development that is comparable to the year of 1925 with respect to the development of the car and the aeroplane.

Maurice de Hond, Newconomy, expert meeting ICT-spatial planning, 6 July 2000

The digital revolution

There is a broad belief that society must change in order to be able to adapt better to worldwide changes which we know we are going to be confronted with. This belief goes hand in hand with applications of new technologies, and as a result a pace of change gathers which cannot be arrested: the digital revolution. In this debate future scenarios are predicted which can lead to utopia or to the edge of the abyss. In the essay ‘Frankenstein revisited’ Hans Achterhuis deals with a manifestation of the computer expert Bill Joy, who advocates that biotechnology, nanotechnology and robots will marginalise man. Achterhuis challenges this pessimistic vision but establishes that the development of ICT cannot be viewed separately from the equally rapid development of the technologies referred to. The discussion should therefore be about the way in which technologies embody values and norms and alter our perceptions.

The uncertainty in society as a result of these rapid technological developments is intensified by the process of globalisation, which is confronting societies with fundamental social, cultural and economic changes. And there is also the new economy which poses new, greater demands on employers and employees.

2.2. Globalisation and the new economy


‘Globalisation is the linking of economic, social and cultural events through technologies ICT is the driving force behind globalisation. The bridging of distance and time conditions everything else’.

What will be the influence of this phenomenon on the quality of the various societies in the world? Linked to worldwide bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation or the World Bank, globalisation is equivalent to the incorporation of the various capitalist systems in one model that is then offered to the developing countries. Measures such as the privatisation of the utilities (energy and drinking water services) and private ownership of natural resources fit into this model. These strategies can work well in some countries; in others however environmental damage is caused for example by removing woodlands without any replanting. The deeper worldwide problem associated with this phenomenon is the disturbed balance between man and his environment.

The policies of non-governnmental organisations are increasingly organised on a worldwide scale. In this way an international civic society can be founded in which all sorts of groups in society can amalgamate in actions in favour or against a particular goal.

Globalisation can lead to anarchistic societies in which no-one has authority any more. In this vision the free world market is at odds with social democracy because the control of socio-economic processes diminishes with the growth of unregulated open capital markets.

Next to these pessimistic visions there are also many more optimistic views upon the opportunities offered by the world as a global village.

The new economy – economisation of information

Economies bob up and down on the waves of cycles. The 1990’s were however characterised by a long period of relatively high economic growth (3% or more), low unemployment and, despite all this, low inflation. This situation is called in the United States the ‘Goldilocks economy’: everything is ‘just right’. Is this the new economy? Is ICT unleashing a new productivity revolution, a qualitative revolution that cannot be measured by the familiar indicators?




Soete and Weehuizen assume that a fundamental transformation of the economy is taking place, whereby the qualitative demand is the most interesting aspect . Familiar concepts such as scarcity, productivity and market forces will have to be closely re-examined. After the economisation of natural resources, and the economisation of time, now the third wave of economisation is taking place: the economisation of information.

Economisation of information

Through ICT it is possible to codify knowledge better than before. It can be appropriated as an investment object. With respect to material production economic value is concentrated more and more on the immaterial part of the production: the knowledge, the ideas and ideals (human capital). The fact that the commercialisation of immaterial aspects form the core of the economy is a new phenomenon.

2.3. Can anything be influenced…...?

The role of the public sector

ICT offers the public sector new tools for implementing its policies. The public authorities can inspire or be disciplinarians, can impart information (‘soft sister’) or be omnipresent (‘big brother’). An interaction between technology and society, whereby various strata in society are striving for an optimal application of the technology, is expressed as a ‘constructivistic approach’, whereby the public authorities are an active player in the midst of the others. This approach may be preferred by democratic society.

As long as the effects of ICT on the living environment are still uncertain, the public authorities can choose to fervently defend the collective values associated with the quality of the living environment and limit themselves to a ‘no regrets policy’, a policy that is expressed in investments that, irrespective of the ultimate developments, in all probability produce a satisfactory social outcome.



3 Problem formulation

The Council perceives the objective of an advice to be to understand the spatial dynamics related to ICT. It must become clear how the concepts and the main objectives of public policies with respect to spatial planning, housing, the environment, traffic and transport are influenced by ICT.

The considerations described in the previous chapters lead to the following questions which form the starting point for the agenda for an advice:

I. What are the effects of ICT on patterns of behaviour in society?

What changes in the behaviour of people, firms, organisations and public authorities, relevant to the policy fields of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, can be attributed to the development of ICT and the directly associated trends in society?

Which social groups and which economic actors in the production and services sectors will be participating and to what extent?

What requirements can be deduced for housing, for the allocation of social and economic activities, for planning and management of space, for traffic and transport and for the environment?

II. How do ICT, policy and policy implementation interact?

How can the public authorities influence the development of ICT and its applications on the policies on the living environment given a collective vision on the best interests of society?

What (investment) contributions should the public authorities make to realise basic infrastructure facilities, the ‘infostructure’, that are required for the desired ICT applications?

What tools are available to the public authorities in the new circumstances to implement and enforce their policies?



4 Agenda for advice

The questions formulated in chapter 3 are elaborated below in the form of an agenda for an advice.

4.1 ICT and society

ICT is the catalyst for important socio-economic trends (see chapter 2.). Insights in these developments will have to be analysed.

A socio-spatial perspective on ICT

Behavioural changes as a consequence of new ICT applications lead to new demands in society with respect to the use of space, housing, traffic and transport.

4.2 ICT and the living environment

4.2.1 ICT, housing and employment

Functional mix

In practice people are searching for a satisfactory residential environment and from that base they look for employment. Moreover work is moving closer and closer to the home through the shift to a services economy. This makes working at home possible.

Firms open branch offices in residential neighbourhoods.

Residential environment

Requirements can be drawn up with respect to the design of the residential environment (domotica, the ‘clever house’; alarm and shopping services).

ICT office design and business travel patterns

ICT enables people to be more mobile. ‘Flexiworking’ (working at home or in a satellite office) can have an important influence on the demand for office space but it is uncertain how quickly and to what extent this development will take place. Will employees work at home on average no more than two or three days per week because face to face contacts remain important?

4.2.2 ICT and spatial planning

ICT and patterns of location

"Internationalisation leads to a world consumed in a network that manifests itself right down to the level of the individual firm. Many firms are looking for a provider of a worldwide logistical system. Commodities ordered across the whole world must also be delivered across the world: the world as a global village!".

Dispersal and concentration

People are attached to the proximity of services and transport systems. A dilemma is now evident in the sense that for good services and high quality transport nodes a high population density is necessary while for (outdoor) recreation and green residential areas extensive land use is desirable. Medium-sized cities seem to be best able to combine these needs.

Cities are changing into centres for management and information exchange. Front office activities remain in the city centres. Back office activities are relocating to the suburbs. In the near future all buildings will have to be linked to knowledge and information networks. This will, however, not be economically cost-effective in the more peripheral areas.

ICT, culture and the use of public spaces

ICT is speeding up a worldwide intermixing of cultures. This can have an effect on the perception of our cultural identity.

ICT is reinforcing social trends that lead to a different type of use of public spaces. A great deal of time is spent away from home, for shopping, visiting museums or theme parks. The wholesale acquisition of private cars has chased children from the streets: the back seat generation is now ferried from one event to another.

4.2.3 ICT and the environment

The efficiency of the use of scarce means of production can increase thanks to the applications of ICT. At the same time new activities may lead to an increase in the consumption of energy and natural resources.

Decoupling and rebound effects: monitoring and enforcement

ICT can catalyse the decoupling of economic growth and an increasing load on the environment and consumption of natural resources. This role is expressed in innovations and in the relative dematerialisation of products and processes. In addition e-commerce, the developments in transport and logistics and new consumption patterns are expected to have considerable environmental effects even if it isn’t clear what eventually will happen. Rebound effects partly negate the environmental benefits to be obtained from ICT applications.

ICT can play a role in measurement, feedback and policy. There are local authorities that for example have attached a chip to their waste bins so that the amount of waste produced by people can be weighed. Through remote sensing at an international level there are also possibilities of charging for activities which pollute the environment.


4.2.4 ICT, traffic and transport

It is uncertain whether the ICT development will lead on balance to a reduced need for physical travel: the opposite cannot be excluded.

Physical and virtual mobility

Through the integrated planning of investments in infrastructure for physical transport and infostructure for ICT, urban networks can grow from bricks and bits. The way this network is established will have far-reaching consequences for the spatial-economic positions of the various regions.


4.3 ICT and living environmental policy guidance

The public authorities can inspire or be disciplinarian, be available on request or be omni-present (soft sister or big brother).

Quality of public information

Through ICT all sorts of groups come together in the global society to protest against or in favour of policies. The quality of the information supplied by the public authorities, on the basis of which these groups decide to act or not to act, will therefore become very important.

Who disposes of our natural resources and public networks?

Thanks to ICT the market is becoming more transparent and a number of public sector monopolies in the fields of public works, transport infrastructure, postal services, telecommunication, public transport and utilities (water, energy) are being freed up for market forces and private competition. In this way improvements in efficiency in the organisation of private enterprises and public institutions seem to be possible, but not without risks.

[010627- pp – summary of english version of ‘Somewhere between fact and fiction’- VROMraad, the Hague, June 2001]