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Manuel Castells lecture: Cities in the Information Age

This afternoon, I attended a lecture at Berkeley given by Manuel Castells. He’s is a charming chubby-cheeked little man. Somehow, I’ve gone this long in life without ever having read anything by him, though he’s written a trilogy titled The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture and is an urban design wonk.

As he spoke. I took notes. Here they are. A little raw…

Cities, spatial forms, processes are fundamental to societies.

Information Age – get through ideology/hype of computers and internet. A fundamental transformation of the social structure, a revolution in communications technologies, largely happening in the 1970s.

Technology IS society. Technology doesn’t shape society.

Interaction between the different dimensions of this transformation (in an Information Age), and the process of urban change (the specific connections). Doing so in a global framework. Networks are global, they know no boundaries.

To study cities in the information age is to analyze the spatial form of the networked society in its deepest dimensions.

What we Know from Scholarly Research
8 points of relationship between IT paradigm and dynamics of cities.
Relationship between information and communication and spatial forms.

As usual, all the futurist predictions failed.
– Cities would disappear.
– Everybody works remotely.
– Endless dispersal of people and activities.
– Everyone living in the country, working on computers.

Currently, this year, we passed the threshold of 50% urban population on the planet.

North American 80%. South American 81%.

The rate or urbanization in Asia is the fastest.

Africa – 2020 projection, over 2/3 urban.

This kind of urbanization is different than earlier urbanization
In 1980s, in this department, there were a number of studies providing the first scholarly research assessing the transformation of technologies and urban/spatial processes.

We could have been the “Berkeley School of Urban Studies”, replacing Chicago School, but we were too busy doing the actual research.

What we showed was neither dispersal, nor the traditional habit of concentration.

Simultaneous concentration and decentralization on people and activities.

The critical matter was that this was kept together by communications technologies.

Through these processes emerged the spatial form that characterizes our time, the metropolitan region.

Organized around selective concentration and dispersal through transportation systems.

These regions emerged not only in the developed world, but mainly in the industrializing world.

Another form of metropolitan world persists — people pushed out of agriculture (mainly in Africa).

The metropolitan region is a worldwide phenomenon.

Organized around networks of communication.

Regions are connected throughout the world to each other
– global networks of transportation and communications
– developing a system… an architecture of nodes and networks

This is the global city.

The global cities are not London, New York, Tokyo, SF, L.A. Can you imagine something more local than Queens in New York? Or something like Hampstead in London? Or Ginza in Tokyo? Roppongi?

What she [a researcher he mentioned] showed is that certain areas of the city are connected throughout the world.

Have the same space and functions through transportation and communication networks.

Fashion districts, music districts, business districts. [Districts global entities connected from city to city. They’re more a cultural construct than anything else.]

There are global spaces connected to transportation and communication networks. The global city is a process, a network.

Every major metro area is part of this global city. [As in… there is A global city, not “global cities.”]

Most of the actual space is local, and linked to local issues and dynamics.

The complexity of making your living on the global network while enjoying life in the local city, that dynamic is at the heart.

In current development, what’s significant is the emergence of wireless comm in urban spaces.

The US is becoming underdeveloped in many areas.

Cell phones penetration still far behind than Europe, etc.

Around the urban space, we’ve overlaid constant contact and communication.
Everything is individualized…

Hypercommunicated city is the central pattern of urban life.

The 8 Connections
1st Connection
The global city, centralized/decentralized linked together through individuals with high levels of control.

2nd Connection
The Wealth of Cities.
Knowledge Economy. Innovation as the source of the creation of wealth. A new disparity between producers of knowledge and those who are not.

Looking at the technology centers of the world, looking at the successes and failures of the entire planet.

Metropolitans are key in the process of innovation. Cultural innovation, tech innovation, economic innovation.

Cities are the creators of wealth.

Universities are fundamental. Under two conditions — connection to metro environ; and they must demonstrate part of the global network of universities.

3rd Connection
Sociability. Communities… urban communities, virtual communities.
Previously, people feared “The internet will dissolve sociability.” Neighborhoods disappear, etc.

This didn’t happen. People live online and offline. People relate to both levels of reality. Don’t live only one or the other.

Even those without internet — they might not have internet at home, but you see cybercafes.

People combine those two forms of sociability — developed a hybrid.

Barry Wellman, Keith Hampton. There are two forms of sociability.

Networked individualism. As an individual I connect with the people I want to connect, both face to face and online.

Place-based community.

Toronto experiment — people on the internet were the most socially interactive, more neighbor interactions, etc.

The more you see your family, the less you use the internet.

Right now, the real digital divide, in technical terms, is broadband.

Broadband is important… Because broadband being used for public services — health services, education (distance education). Open University of BCN – 100% on internet.

3rd world – main problem continues to be access
In the developed world — when you have the internet, than what to do with the internet. Where to find info, what do you need, for what, under what conditions. The education and cultural divide, which has always existed, becomes amplified by the internet.

The internet doesn’t overcome inequality or poverty, but amplifies the challenges with education and the school system

[He seemed to skip his 4th point of connection]

5th point of connection
Originally, the notion was the internet was the place where everyone would fake their identities, play roles, etc.

Actually, people project themselves and their lives on the internet. The use the internet to build their identity. Except for a large proportion of teenagers. Like elsewhere, they are trying to find out who they are.

6th point of connection
Local governments around the world could be and in some cases are being transformed.

E-government (US way behind Europe). The ability to administer building permits, planning, to actually run the city.

The relationship between planning and planning control is being transformed by the ability to managing, in real time, the information on a computer.

7th point of connection
Social movements are networked.

Without the internet, it would be very difficult for them to happen.

Anti-globalization (actually, it’s Anti-corporate-globalization). It’s all local groups… Connected globally.

Increasing forms of autonomous grassroots mobilization which are bypassing the traditional political structures of participation. Instant (flash) mobilization

You have a problem, you don’t like what’s happening, pick up your cell phone, send a message to 10 friends, they to 10, etc. etc., you can start a social movement.

Exactly what happened in Spain after the terrorist attacks. The government tried to lie. People revolted against the lies about the terrorist attack… The media were controlled, and the socialist party couldn’t actually denounce the process, so it was a group of youth starting the movement, they completely changed the vote of 2mil new voters, turning a conservative victory into a conservative defeat.

In contrast to Robert Putnam’s concerns, these people are not members of formal associations. People are increasingly distant from formal associations, but not ready to shut up, and explore the possibility to organize their own networks, and then disband when the issue is settled.

8th point of connection.
Environmental issues.

To a large extent, we know what’s happening now, because of scientific development, ability to model and project the consequences of what we are doing.

The environmental movement is critical of science as a dominant ideology.

Metro growth under these conditions is a contested terrain. Economic groups, boosters, NIMBYs, forward thinking environmentalisms.

Define the emerging spatial form.
The Metropolitan Region.

The metropolitan region is not just a big metro area.

It is a constellation of settlementss, population, and activities, large expanse of territories, no name, no authority, extreme diversity, organizaed around transportation and communication, and in a network pattern of many urban centers.

It can be oxymoronic. The largest metro center in the SF metro region is not SF. It’s San Jose.

These centers become connected. Think London and Paris.

This region is the form that corresponds to the information age, because only now do we have the tech capability to keep more or less working as a unit, all these diverse functions, and nuclear centers, in such a large territory.

This region has different types/modalities.

It comes in very different forms.

To simplify, I built three ideal types/models.

The Los Angeles Model – the ultimate region (Ventura to Tijuana). Up Against the Sprawl (book). Data showing the unity of this huge urban constellation. Multi-nuclear. Freeway-automobile complex. The constellation of different centers. There are many different centers. Industrial activity is concentrated and dispersed. Different areas focus on different industries – defense in OC, movies in Culver, multimedia in Santa Monica, etc.

Extreme social and ethnic segregation and increasing. Self-segregation by the rich. LA is 53% latino by this point. Ghettos of rich people.

Real Estate is still the engine of growth. Driver of spatial patterning. Land occupation is moving deep into the desert. Filling out towards SB and SD. Weak control at the metro level, increasing localism, inability to manage metro stress. Widespread environmental destruction.

Mexico City Model— Informality at the heart of the process. Lawless process of urbanization. Illegal systems become regularized (shantytowns, etc.) The city was produced informally, then formalized by the political system. Mass transit is dependent on special interests and kickbacks. It’s mass transit, but not a system. Ad hoc, depending on who does what. Mexico City is a notch above the LA pattern of segregation toward fragmentation. Certain groups just don’t use the city. South of Mexico City is almost independent from the rest of the city.

Historic center becomes dilapidated.

Rampant criminality. LA looks like Scandinavia by comparison. Criminality is in the state. The police are criminal.

Barcelona Model — Planners and urbanists and others have created a new concept — Catalonia City. The spatial unit is Catalonia, not Barcelona. 6.5 million people, Barcelona is dominant. Every point is within 1.5 hours of connection with each other.

Multi nuclear structure. With big cities, 200-300,000 people, all connected.

What is specific to Barcelona model? The vitality of public space in all urban centers. Maintenance of public space is the key element of organizing life in the city. Rather than pushing away the immigrants, public spaces are built in the neighborhoods, improving the quality of public space.

High density. Strong level of commercial activity at the street level.

Mass transit networks that network everything with everything. Including affordable, dense, taxi system (unique to Barcelona). Autos are still very popular. But they’re an option, not a necessity. Hyper communication through mobile communication. 92% of people with cell phones. Patterns of communication completely change. Not that you reduce transportation problems (in some ways you increase them).

You go on the street, then you call from the street, then you rearrange your path, and the other person’s path, in realtime. This is congested here, so I go somewhere else. [You can use communication to route around gridlock.] This is the “smart” system — people use devices.

Strong street life. Street life as a key for the city and the key for safety. There are always people around. [Echoes of Jane Jacobs]

Institutional management. There is still strong local govt. There is no metro region govt. The main thing is the association of local governments to address a number of problems together.

Problems — when the quality of life becomes good, then you have a great temptation to sell it. So you sell it. You deteriorate the quality of life for the citizens. All the people who live in Barcelona become overwhelmed. 20 million visitors in the summer.

The older population is in a growing immigrant society that they don’t accept.

Implications of this analysis for practice.
There is no turning back. We will increasingly live in a metro world. connected globally through networks of communication.

The wealth of cities depend on innovation, knowledge, services, all linked to metro areas.

Three issues emerge.

1. Ability to manage multimodal communication channels. Multimodal in all kinds of communication. How you handle multimodality.

2. High density. Is necessary, like it or not. New forms of livable high density.

3. Public space becomes the core of the city again. As the space of urban social life. Not one square here, another square here… But public space everywhere — each neighborhood, working class, etc. And not fancy — just nice public space.

The consequences
1. Planning of mobility and connectivity through inter modality. Telecom, transportation, commerce.
2. Environmental planning as a holistic understanding of the various dimensions of life in human settlements. Science and tech toward increasing quality of life.
3. Urban design and architecture of the city to restore meaning and mark places symbolically all around the metro landscape. Not just monuments, but meaningful infrastructure. Airports, bridges, public works — public works as architecture.
4. The most important thing is to develop an urban design meaningful appraoch throughout the space, creating a new social identity.

Ultimately all this depends on the political capacity to act on society at large, not just narrow segments of interest groups.

This is difficult. There is a a worldwide crisis of political legitimacy. Politics has become increasingly professionalized.

Urban innovation and social change will have to push govt and people, rather than being the result of politicians. The alliance between professional and concerned citizens must be called upon to save the cities in the information age, on behalf of the citizens. If you want a better urban life, you invent it, then fight for it.


And that was it!

  1. If I ever go to college again (.1 probability), remind me to pay you — or hold you captive with the threat of dropping sharks in your shoes, if necessary — to be my note-taker. DANG.

  2. Fantastic notes – and just want I need right now. next time I see you, remind me and I will buy you ridiculous amounts of beer.

  3. Great job Peter! I was googling for the duo Castells and wireless, and so I found yr notes. Extremely worthwhile for my current research/interest (Cities and Globalisation – in my case Kolkata (Calcutta), cf: Every major metro area is part of this global city. As in… there is A global city, not “global cities.”
    So thanks & keep the good work!
    (with greetings from the global … village: Amsterdam (NL)

  4. way cool notes, man. i was also at that lecture and left wishing that i taped it. a minor “fill in the blanks,” the researcher he mentioned re: global cities was a gal named saskia sassen.

    thanks for this again, peace!

  5. Fascinating notes, this seems like the best-ever summary of his books… BTW: [the author he mentions] is undoubtedbly Saskia Sassen (U of Chicago).

  6. Hello! I was hoping you could tell me if Mr. Castells was speaking in the Bay Area over the next month or so?

    Thanks in advance

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