Smart Growth and Smart Communities

Smart About What?

With recent advocacy from the White House, "Smart Growth" initiatives are now being promoted in most US metropolitan areas, with particular emphasis focussed upon mitigating the impacts of rapid population growth; the automobile; land, water, air quality and other natural resources uses; and our desires for economic development. These largely reactive and often vested interest motivated planning processes have barely begun to consider the impacts and implications of evolving technological development, local-global internetworking of society, and the 'information economy'.

Government bodies, private sector groups and non-profit environmental, education and healthcare organizations are becoming involved in "Smart Growth" planning in the multi-county Sacramento 'capital region', where traffic impacts are increasingly untenable; state agencies intend to mandate transfers of northern mountain and valley waters to southern California; air quality looms evermore densely visible above the horizon; Central Valley agricultural fields are being replaced by sprawling subdivisions; and education is not keeping pace with new job requirements. Can application of internetworked decision-support systems and processes help make a difference? What is the role of "Smart Community" initiatives in this context?

Urban-Rural Communities Networking Initiatives:
Stewarding Changing Relationships in the Information Society.

Consideration of communities in an increasingly information based society, and of our ability to act intelligently for their benefit, cannot be done without taking into account the evermore complex, socially dynamic, and economically critical relationships between cities, their rural surrounds, and all that is disturbingly filling in between. To separately address the problems, solutions and changing state of cities or rural communities, is to deny an ecological, whole systems approach to planning and living.

Few have studied or applied urban-rural relationships to the new information society. Digital thinking has further fostered an 'either-or' consideration of cities, rural areas and 'edge'. The need to better understand, to plan, and to make more intelligent, constituency-supported decisions about the impacts and implications of societal change is urgent. This task, though critically necessary, is a daunting journey into the heart of complexity. Internetworked tools and facilitated public processes may, however, offer the opportunity to do things a bit better.

Telecommunications, Education, Economics and Community Development

Over the last few years, a select number of federal and state government agencies, corporate groups, and private foundations have funded and subsidized the development of local/regional telecommunications infrastructure and networked user applications, with the goals of promoting 'universal access', enhanced educational opportunities and 'smart' economic development. Measuring the success or failures of these initiatives is a difficult task. Anecdotal information and achievement milestones are only beginning to be documented. To date there has been no appropriate means for accurate determination of the relationship between telecommunications systems and services, and geographically specific and dynamic educational, economic or other demo-social trends. Without the ability to begin substantiating the impacts of these funding and subsidization programs, their effectiveness and continuing existence is in jeopardy, and many pioneering public networking initiatives will be left with a precariously uncertain future.

Improved methods are increasingly required for private sector investors; information technology companies; state and federal funding agencies; local government, schools, libraries, medical facilities, community groups and local businesses to determine the areas and amounts for their investment in and deployment of telecommunications systems and services; for understanding direct and indirect effects thereof; and for determining specific social needs and appropriate ways to fulfill these in an economically phased and sustained process.

Will newly structured public and private investments in building a networked 'information society' prove their economic and social worth, by fostering improved quality of life for all?

The Info/Eco Project is taking first steps to inventory, map and analyze the telecommunications infrastructure of the urban-rural, multi-county Sacramento Valley region. Data sharing among many public and private entities, regulatory agencies and research organizations will be required. The means, significance and value of this effort will be in the correlation of telecommunications mapping with the overlay mapping of economic development, educational, and other social indicator-based dynamic data. A partnered approach will help to assure data and analysis credibility and accuracy, as well as safeguarding certain sensitive and competitive data.

The Info/Eco Project will utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and internetworking tools to inventory and map regional telecommunications infrastructure and usage, and to relate this mapping to specific existing and newly gathered technical, demographic, economic and ecological indicator data. The resulting relational database will provide an increasingly detailed geographic model of the economic and social patterns and dynamics, and the associated impacts and implications of existing and required telecommunications facilities, connectivity, tele-media penetration, business and job creation, educational enhancement, community development and policy. The project is designed to be a replicable model that can serve as the basis for more effective and pragmatic 'next step' tele-social decisionmaking, policy recommendations, investments and actions.

The Info/Eco Project is particularly timely for at least two reasons:

  1. The link between telecommunications and economic growth is being widely touted, but has little solid evidence upon which to proceed. Federal and state agencies are currently investing in and subsidizing NII based telecommunications demonstration projects with public funds, attempting to promote universal access and equity, lifelong learning and economic development. These efforts are coming under increasing political fire. They can only continue if they prove their economic and political worth.
  2. 2. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 has forced a dramatic restructuring of the telecommunications industry, with complex implications for the future of our society. Its implications and impacts are in question. Without a good understanding based upon fact, it will be difficult to protect and promote the interests of rural areas and urban neighborhoods. The dangers are real enough; in a reasonably competitive environment, cross-subsidies become unsustainable. Even without subsidies, these areas need to know how much and in what ways they should invest in their own infrastructure needs. Currently, the information base with which to guide such decisions is weak. This project's goal is to generate a substantive information resource for improved telecommunications and economic development based decisionmaking at the local, state and federal levels.

Information Economics:
What's the Matter; What's the Difference; What's the Use?

Most public decisionmakers and corporate leaders do not yet understand the value of this proposed project or the needs that it plans to address. Many others see competitive, regulatory or security and privacy-based impediments to its undertaking. The potential gains inherent in this undertaking, however, outweigh the many perceived difficulties. The Info/Eco Project is designed to be a direct complement to the high profile and most urgently worthwhile strategic planning and mapping efforts now in process, in the name of "Smart Growth". These initiatives are largely reactive attempts to address and mitigate the impacts of ever greater human imposition on an increasingly fragile landscape.

The Info/Eco Project is a pro-active effort to address the cause-and-effect changes being wrought by the tele-mediation of society over the next few years, and beyond. It is based on the belief that the evolution of the Internet and convergent media will have at least as great an impact on our geographic urban-rural communities, economic relationships and social processes, as have transportation, energy systems and the industrial economy over the last one hundred years.

The realization of "Smart Communities" and "Smart Growth" must be actively integrated. It is time to truly demonstrate what we intend to be smart about.

Telecommunications Infrastructure Indicators

Other Economic and Ecological Indicators (Geographically located)

1999 - 2000