the use of space
in the information
communication age


The emerging space of digital information/communication flows is modifying traditional analog urban networks. These “virtual” spaces (Internet, telephone, television) are influencing and interacting with “real” urban places.

Infodrome is a think tank for the Dutch government in the information society under the leadership of Secretary Rick van der Ploeg. The objectives of Infodrome are gaining insight into the social consequences of the information revolution , organizing and feeding the public debate about the role of government in this, and advising the government on relevant strategic choices.

Infodrome is a thinktank for the Dutch government: a “programme of studies, reports, evaluations, conferences and other activities focussed on contributing on the design of policy of government in the information society”.
The purpose was to accomplish insights that are useful to formulating policies for the next Dutch Cabinet.

Infodrome is installed by dr. Rick van der Ploeg, the Dutch State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science, authorised by the Dutch Cabinet for a period of two years.
Infodrome is led by a steering group with the State Secretary as its chairman and the directors of the Dutch planning agencies as members. The steering group was advised by a supervisory committee in which al the Dutch Ministries were represented on directorate level.


1.1 The Interaction of Urban and Information/Communication Networks
1.2 The Intermingling of the Analog and the Digital
1.3 “Hybrid” (Combined Analog/Digital) Spaces
1.4 The ‘Media Model’
1.5 Historical Examples of the Interaction between the “Space of Flows” and the “Space of Places”

2.1 Global Cities
2.2 Nodes / Network City
2.3 Transformations of Suburbia
2.4 Electronic Cottage / Televillages
2.5 Smart Cities
2.6 The City of Events
2.7 Dual City
2.8 The Importance of Location
2.9 Planning and building the Network City
2.9.1 The Dynamics of the Network City
2.9.2 Planning Constant Change
2.9.3 Flexibility and Quality in Building

3.1 The Networked House
3.2 New Housing Types
3.3 New Facilities Connected to the House
3.4 More Space for Living
3.5 @ Home on my Portable PDA
3.6 ‘High-speed’ Living for Modern Nomads
3.7 Spreading Roots
3.8 The Revitalisation of the Neighbourhood
3.9 Quality as an Important Factor in the Choice of Place of Residence

4.1 Privatisation of Media and Urban Space
4.2 Segregation in Media and in Urban Space
4.3 Loss of Function of Urban Public Space
4.4 The Market is the Driving Force for ICT
4.5 The Need for Publicly Driven Media Spaces
4.6 The Need for Public “Hybrid” Spaces

5.1 Urban Idensities™
5.2 Idensities™ of the Urbanite

6.1 Planning from Prognosis to the Processing of Change
6.1.1 The Limitations of Prognosis
6.1.2 Supporting Change and Processing the Unplannable
6.1.3 Developing Visions of our Environment
6.2 Planning between Laissez-faire and Control
6.3 Providing Infrastructures
6.4 The Infrastructural Paradigm in Urban/Regional Planning
6.5 “Bottom-up” Strategies as Strategies for Defending Plurality
6.6 “Quality Control”
6.7 Enhancing Identities
6.8 Image Policies
6.9 The “Hybrid” (Media and Urban) Economy of Events

7.1 Processing Information
7.2 Computing the Unpredictable?
7.3 Visualising Complex Data
7.4 Making Information Accessible
7.5 Exteriorising the Planning Process
7.6 Providing Communication Spaces and Involving the Public
7.7 Supporting a Public Event Industry
7.8 Generating Public “Hybrid” Spaces
7.9 Public Media Interfaces for Urban Planning
7.10 Urban/Regional Planning and the Politics of the Future



This paper presents an introduction to the questions raised by the developments in information/communication technology (ICT) and their interaction with the urban. It also addresses the challenges of urban/regional planning in the early stages of the information/communication age. This “issue paper” is intended to be a basis for a workshop within the framework presented by Infodrome, dealing with the theme of the “use of space in the information/communication age”.

The paper is based on our long-term research and work in the development of a new field of planning and design that combines urbanism and architecture with information/communication networks and media spaces (“Soft Urbanism”, “Networked Architecture”).

With this contribution we seek to raise relevant questions and trigger off and support a constructive discussion in the working sessions of Infodrome.

Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar, Amsterdam March 2000.

issue paper INFODROME

the use of space in the information/communication age
– processing the unplannable

Amsterdam March 2000


This “issue paper” is introduced by a short sketch of the trends in contemporary urban growth. ICT supports the transformations of the urban today into a network structure (“network city”). Within this so-called “network city” we can observe both parallel contradictory tendencies of concentration and deconcentration of urban functions.

With the expansion of the freedom of choice of location, enabled by ICT, the significance of location for individuals and enterprises does not disappear but is increased. Quality and identity of a place as well as density of connections (transport and communication infrastructure) are very important assets for the attractivity of locations.

Information/communication networks and media spaces absorb functions from the urban organism (teleshopping, teleworking, television, etc.). Still, the urban does not dissolve; the city will not disappear. “Real” space will change in character, its very specific qualities as an environment for direct physical encounter and experience, as a generator of (intuitive) trust needed for social cohesion, becoming more pronounced.

More interesting than the competition between the urban as such and the information/communication networks are their combinations: the whole new series of so-called “hybrid” (combined analog-digital, combined urban and media) networks and spaces emerging, ranging from the networked house to the “hybrid” (media and urban) spaces of the event economy.

The developments in ICT are mainly driven by market forces. To counterbalance the privatisation of spaces of social interaction, urban/regional planning, with its tradition of public concern, should work on the development of public “hybrid” (“real” and media) networks and spaces.

Within these new landscapes of “hybrid” (“real” and media) networks, traditional categories for analysing the urban are becoming obsolete. A new field of planning and design that combines urbanism and architecture with information/communication networks and media spaces is emerging. New categories for researching and developing the new “hybrid” network city have to be formulated. ‘Idensity™’ is proposed in this context as such a new approach to the contemporary “hybrid” network city.

New strategies and instruments to process the ongoing transformations of today’s network city, to process the unplannable, have to be developed. ICT offers a broad range of tools not only for processing but also for communicating planning issues. The emergence of these information/communication spaces for planning issues will strongly affect the planning process by enabling and supporting public involvement. Planning will be exteriorised; citizens and (urban) interest groups will have a stronger influence on the decision process.

Public media event spaces and public “hybrid” (media and urban) interfaces are proposed as an infrastructure for urban/regional planning, for developing communal visions of our worlds. These communication spaces for urban issues could develop into very important forums for the mediatised, regionalised and globalised politics of the future.


The Interaction of Urban and Information/Communication Networks

The emerging space of digital information/communication flows is modifying traditional analog urban networks. These “virtual” spaces (Internet, telephone, television) are influencing and interacting with “real” urban places. This interaction process between information/communication networks and the urban environments is a complex and dynamic one.

By negating distance, information/communication technology is reducing the importance of spatial proximity for the location of functions. At the same time, the “spaces of flows” of information/communication networks are attracted to existing urban structures, supporting given centralities and enhancing urban differentiations.

The spaces of information/communication networks are absorbing functions (for example, teleworking, teleshopping) and power (for example, economic transactions, politics) away from urban organisms. However, the relation between the urban realm and ICT networks is not just one of simple competition.

The anticipation (and fear) of the replacement of urban organisms by the “soft” cities of tomorrow is proving to be too simplistic. ICT will not absorb all the functions of urban organisms by withdrawing them from the urban and transferring them to telecommunication networks. The city will not disappear, but it will change in character, in that its very specific qualities as an environment for direct physical encounter and experience, as a generator of (intuitive) trust needed for social cohesion, will become more pronounced.


The Intermingling of the Analog and the Digital

Interesting as it is to consider urban/architectural space and the space of information/communications networks as competing, even mutually exclusive frameworks of social interaction, it will be more fruitful to recognise the emerging fusions of analog space and digital networks.

We are increasingly dealing today with these fuzzy mixes of the analog and the digital, as for instance with miniaturised digital communication devices integrated in wearables as watches or safety coats. “Intelligent” home devices such as refrigerators networked via your personal portable information/communication system (“personal digital assistant” or PDA) will in the near future tell you that you haven’t any milk left and, if you don’t want to teleshop, your car will guide you to the next shop where you can buy milk. Networked wall-paper and doors, as integral elements of the system of the “smart” house, will recognise the owner of the house and process the patterns of his habits. “Intelligent”, networked materials and objects will be everywhere.


“Hybrid” (Combined Analog/Digital) Spaces

But one does not have to go into science fiction (for example, into the quite probable future merging of three scientific fields that are developing at the moment at a very high speed – biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology – and the then expected exploding possibilities for “intelligent”, networked materials). Already we can find fusions of analog and digital space, the so-called “hybrid” networked spaces all around us: on the trading floor of the stock exchange, in our living rooms with the television set or in the (dance) clubs with their disc-jockeys and video-jockeys. These “hybrid” environments, these products of the alliances of “real” space and media networks are ambivalent spaces that are at the same time analog and digital, virtual and material, local and global, tactile and abstract.


The ‘Media Model’

Information/communication networks should here be considered in their whole breadth of range. Today’s Internet and World Wide Web are just early forms of digital communication spaces. Enabled by digitalisation, we are experiencing today, a convergence of different media (television, radio, telephone, Internet, Global Positioning Systems).

Network providers (AOL) are fusing with content providers (Time Warner: media / EMI: music). Music or videos can today be produced on your PC and their world-wide distribution is just a matter of a couple of mouse clicks. We will thus experience in the near future a whole new range of (one-to-many and one-to-one) mass media. This acceleration and proliferation of media is part of the general trend of the transition from a textual towards a more visual culture.

In this text, the term “information/communication technology” (ICT) will be used for describing the enabling technology, whereas the term “media” will refer to the communication spaces that are supported by this technology.


Historical Examples of the Interaction between the “Space of Flows” and the “Space of Places”

An interesting historical example of the complex interaction between information/communication networks and the city is supplied by the development of the telephone system and its influence on the process of urban growth. When it was introduced, the telephone helped dissolve the traditional specialised monofunctional trade districts like the fish market or the goldsmith’s street and enabled the formation of multifunctional, lively “urbanity”. Later, with a higher level of penetration, together with other communication and transportation systems (television, car), the telephone supported suburbanisation, the separation and the spreading of functions in the suburbs.

Information/communication networks not only support and drive the transformations of urban environments. Information/communication networks are attracted and adapted to existing urban structures. For example, the now disappearing public telephone booth would be positioned at a strategic crossing of streets. This choice of location for the public telephone booth would strengthen existing centralities of the city.

Today’s emerging information/communication systems with their growing degree of penetration are supporting the development of urban organisms towards a more heterarchical network structure. Yet these information/communication networks are corresponding to the given logic of urban structures. Information/communication networks are attracted to traditional urban structures and are thus enhancing to some extent existing centralities.

of the

Global Cities

At the moment, we can observe a concentration of power and skill in a few central nodes, the “global cities” as major international financial and business centres: New York, London, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Zurich, Amsterdam etc..

These cities offer the advantage of a high density of direct communication: face-to-face contact supports informal exchange and the generation of trust needed for high-level managerial functions. As centres for international corporations, they occupy a dominant position in the public imagination, thus obtaining a symbolic centrality, strengthening their identity as “global players”.

These cities, or certain parts of these cities, are becoming nodes within the global space of (capital) flows, thus gaining in influence, while other, sometimes neighbouring locations loose in relevance. These “global cities”, or parts of them, are linked on a global scale more closely to each other than to their immediate surroundings. Simultaneously these global players are part of a network of nodes of several functionally and symbolically differentiated centres of the “network city”.


Nodes / Network City

The networking structure reproduces itself in regional and local sub-centres. ‘Traditional’ settlements (Rotterdam, Den Haag, Amsterdam, Utrecht, etc.) as well as “Edge Cities”, highly developed areas at the highway interchanges, function as nodes and are connected by “metropolitan corridors” (highways, high-streets etc.). This multicentered “network metropolis” is part of the chain of the western European urbanised region, of the vast extended network of the European “banana” that stretches from Manchester and London, through the Randstad and the Ruhrgebiet to the Rhine area, and via Switzerland to the Milan-Turin agglomeration.

Urban organisms are changing from hierarchically structured systems of centre and periphery, where the periphery is organised around one single centre, into the heterarchy of network organisations. The nodes of this network city are functionally (high density) and symbolically (strong identity) differentiated nodes, mutually complementing each other. This network pattern is an open and flexible structure with the inherent quality of easily expanding and integrating new nodes, following varied ever-changing patterns of urban growth and transformation.


Transformations of Suburbia

Within the fragmented landscape of the interurban periphery, suburbia is changing from the monofunctional “biotope of the closed domesticated nuclear family” into a multifunctional (low density, no identity) in-between of network-nodes. The classic suburban bungalow, “existing precisely to isolate women and the family from urban economic life”, is being transformed into a “woon-werk” base for the “patchwork-family” of the teleworker. In so-called “postsuburbia” with its shopping malls, (back-) office parks, high tech laboratories, etc., we increasingly find a mix of functions of living, trading, producing and recreating. This trend of spreading of functions will be enhanced and supported by global positioning systems guiding one through the labyrinths of suburban sprawls.


Electronic Cottage / Televillages

The density of connections (nodes), the urban density of social interactions and communication, is a decisive factor in the choice of location (see “Global Cities”). Simultaneously, as telecommunication reduces the importance of spatial proximity and expands the freedom of choice of location for individuals and enterprises, there is also the counteracting movement of spatial dispersal (see “Transformations of Suburbia”).

Next to the degree of connection to global networks (media networks, air transport, high-speed trains, etc.), “soft” aspects such as special fiscal conditions, quality of the environment, (cultural) quality of life, identity of a place gain importance for the choice of location and become decisive factors for development and economic differentiation. As good transportation infrastructure and broad-band communication networks increasingly become available everywhere (in Holland), we will experience the emergence of “Electronic Cottages” and “Televillages” with ecological qualities and the unique identity of a special cultural-historical “plek”.


Smart Cities

As innovation “requires intense face-to-face contact and ongoing trust-based relationships”, innovative firms and laboratories tend to cluster in campus-like settlements, with an introvert atmosphere and a high density of specialised communication. “Smart Cities”, “technopoles”, create in the peripheries of existing cities specialised network-nodes with the specialised identity of technological innovators (Silicon Valley, Route 128, the “technopole” of Montpellier, München-Martinsried, Freiburg, the Flanders Language Valley in Western Belgium, Eindhoven etc.).


The City of Events

Media spaces (Internet, television) are increasingly absorbing functions (for example, teleworking, teleshopping) and power (for example, economic transactions, politics) from urban organisms: the distribution and discussion of news, the display and selling of goods, space for play and celebration were formerly embedded in urban public space; today these activities are increasingly being performed by radio, TV, telephone or Internet. This process of the withdrawal of activities from urban/suburban space and the loss of function of urban public space connected to it are nothing new. All that is new will be the dramatic acceleration of this development the moment, for example, that e-commerce will really break through and threaten its “real” competitors, the urban retail industry, the shop next door.

ICT rationalises these socio-economic activities. This mediatisation of social interaction will demand compensation, by spaces for physical encounter and (new) social rituals. E-commerce (electronic commerce) will find its counterbalance in an analog-atmospheric commerce (we propose the concept of ‘a-commerce’). The traditional shop will not disappear. It will transform and merge with its electronic competitor (‘hybrid retailing’). The traditional shop will specialise and mutate into an event and celebration space, with a strongly symbolic value. The visit to your grocer, to your bookshop will have the quality of an event.

Future ‘a-commerce’ will enhance the already ongoing development of the urban into an event and entertainment zone. Already today, we can observe the transformation of parts of the traditional inner city into open-air museums, “embodiments of a collective memory and fantasy and simulacra or mere reflections of themselves and their pasts”. We can also see mega shopping malls developing into amusement parks, comprising popular media events, leisure facilities and tourist attractions (so-called “retail-tainments”).

Regular visits to these urban theme parks and event cites will compensate for the cyber-lifestyle of teleconsumers in the same way as the dropping-in of the teleworkers at the office headquarters for group meetings and corporate events will function as rituals of belonging. Pilgrimage to these nodes with a high level of density of social contacts and strong symbolic identities will be an integrated part of the programs of the “hybrid” (media and urban) event industries.

A whole industry for the consumption of the “urban theme park” is emerging, with its city trips and “urban safaris”, supporting a “hybrid” (media and urban) symbolic economy comprising tourism, entertainment, culture and sports. Competition between urban localities to position themselves in the markets of mass tourism and the “economy of events” of the cultural/media industries is fostering a strong interest in the production of urban images, urban identities and “urban brands”.


Dual City

Cities, or certain parts of these cities, gain in symbolic centrality, thus in importance, while other, sometimes neighbouring (parts of) cities lose in relevance and disappear from mental maps. Territories closely surrounding symbolically and functionally important nodes of the network city play an increasingly subordinate function, sometimes becoming even dysfunctional (for example “problem areas” and housing estates of marginalised social groups with a low degree of connection to the urban surroundings and to the information/communication networks).

In the discontinuous landscape of the “carpet metropolis” (of the Randstad), spatial fragmentation is a mirror and generator of social segregation. The residential areas (“ghettos”?) of the excluded coexist in stark social contrast and threaten the neighbouring “gated communities”, the residential areas with restricted access for the upper and middle classes protected by private security services and “live cams”.


The Importance of Location

Within the network city, we can observe today the two parallel contradictory urban trends of concentration and deconcentration of functions. ICT expands the freedom in the choice of location; but this does not mean that location is becoming unimportant. Traditional urban centralities and infrastructural nodes do gain in attraction, thus enhancing the importance and strengthening the very specific differentiations and profiles of locations. While distance counted in kilometres loses its relevance, distance counted in hours still is an important factor for the choice of location for enterprises and individuals. And next to the quality of infrastructure (transport, communication) this freedom of choice of location makes the (partly symbolic) quality of a place gain in importance.


Planning and building the Network City

2.9.1 The Dynamics of the Network City

In the previous passages, we briefly described the transformations of the urban into a network structure, the so-called “network city”. The heterarchical structure of the network city is inherently more flexible than the traditional urban pattern with its hierarchy of centre and periphery and its radiant connections.

This network pattern is an open and flexible structure with the inherent quality of easily expanding and integrating new nodes, following varied ever-changing patterns of urban growth and transformation. The network pattern can adapt and react to the ongoing structural changes caused by the dynamics of a global market economy. The network city is in a constant state of flux.

2.9.2 Planning Constant Change

The planning of the network city has to deal with constant change. Planning is the (sustainable) management of the asynchronous growth and recycling of the elements of the urban network.

Planning has therefore to research and to develop strategies and instruments for supporting change, for encouraging, facilitating and connecting the ongoing processes of urban growth and transformation.

2.9.3 Flexibility and Quality in Building

A whole range of flexible building solutions, such as adapting existing buildings, developing flexible building types, building with light prefabricated adaptable building systems, recycling of building materials etc. should be considered.

However, as quality of environment is becoming an important argument for the choice of location (see above), flexibility should be weighed and counterbalanced with the need for quality. This applies especially to Holland where a tradition of low-budget building techniques has not only had very positive social effects (social housing) but has also led to a lack of high-quality real estate.

@ Home

The Networked House

The house is becoming increasingly a “smart” space (with sophisticated energy management and security control), a networked place (your fridge controlling the reserves of milk, your TV set ordering new movies, the teleworking-unit being an integrated part of your flat) and a monitoring unit (telecare and telemedicine for the elderly).


New Housing Types

The fact that the house is increasingly becoming the base for non-private activities, such as teleworking or video conferencing, requires adaptations to the organisation of its spaces.

Housing types (for the teleworker or the self-employed) are already being developed, partly modelled on the traditional craftsman’s and merchant’s house with its combination and internal zoning of workplace and private quarters. These new housing types respond to the new graduations of privacy between the work-space and the private retreat that are required (with for example level splitting between private and semi-public spaces). They also have differentiated connections to the public street, as for example two different entries, one for the family (private) and one for clients (semi-public).

New Facilities Connected to the House

New facilities, such as conference rooms, spaces with specialised ICT-equipment or small-scale, decentral teleshopping distribution centres, will either be integrated in the new “woon-werk” complexes and apartment buildings or will be part of a new neighbourhood infrastructure (networked neighbourhood centres; see below).


More Space for Living

We will be able to stay at home longer. ICT applications, such as telemonitoring of patients, telemedicine or specialised care-robots will enable the elderly to continue living independently in their own houses.

And as the house becomes increasingly the centre for a wide range of very different activities, as we spent more time at home, we will need (especially in Holland) bigger houses. The existing trend for more space per person will become stronger. This trend will of course be counterbalanced by the already visible decrease of space needed for other functions such as for example, offices or shops, as these “go virtual” (teleworking, e-commerce).


3.5 @
Home on my Portable PDA

However, the real “home” of the flexi-worker is mobile. It is his personal portable information/communication system (“personal digital assistant” or PDA) through which he can get the messages the refrigerator sends and communicate with his tele-clients. This portable device is the key to the (virtual) reference space of the information-worker, bringing continuity into his life. The house is just a remote-controlled unit.


‘High-speed’ Living for Modern Nomads

This might have the increase of spatial mobility as a consequence. New housing facilities, like ‘high-speed’ living for the modern nomad in the global cities or fully equipped “woon-werk” bungalows for the ‘holiday worker’ will be developed. A trend of ‘flex-woonen’ will require a more dynamic and flexible housing market.


Spreading Roots

And of course the general acceleration will demand compensation by strengthening the opposite trend as well. As social mobility and job flexibility do not have spatial mobility as a consequence, since a career-move does not require moving, the house could become the very private retreat, the haven of continuity in the very unstable life of the “flexi-worker”. A strong need for privacy and enclosure could be (at least for a transition time until our perception capabilities adapt) a reaction to the increasing information every one of us has to process.


The Revitalisation of the Neighbourhood

The bonds with the immediate local community could be strengthened. As people will not be obliged to move because of new jobs, they will develop more permanent ties, strong identification with their local communities. As they will have to commute less and less on a daily basis, we will experience a revitalisation of local life, especially for families with children.

Next to their “virtual communities” on the Internet, people might choose to experience community in their local neighbourhoods. This use of public space in the surroundings of the home will not be indispensable; it will be a choice. People will voluntarily situate activities in their local surroundings if the neighbourhood is attractive. And the neighbourhood is more attractive if it is lively. Therefore activity will attract activity.


Quality as an Important Factor in the Choice of Place of Residence

As the freedom of choice of location increases, the advantages and disadvantages of a particular neighbourhood will gain in importance. The quality of an environment is increasingly becoming an important factor for the choice of location for individuals. Quality includes the quality (and size) of the house itself, environmental qualities, quality of public space as well as the quality of social life of the neighbourhood.


Privatisation of Media and Urban Space

We are witnessing today a crisis of the public space. We are witness to the privatisation of the spaces for social interaction. The emerging mass media spaces and urban space are increasingly being privatised and becoming more and more exclusory.

Urban public space is imploding into privately controlled and commercially exploited interiors such as shopping malls and atriums. And all these developments have their counterparts in cyberspace: here you need a passport to enter protected residential areas or clubs, there you need a password to access communication.


Segregation in Media and in Urban Space

The media networks are segregative spaces: Internet and digital television exclude those unable to pay for the necessary hard- and software infrastructure and the monthly connection fees, not to mention the access mechanisms or the required technical skills. The social gap between these non-tactile exclusory media spheres and the imploding urban sprawls is widening.

The segregation processes in media environments are nothing but the enhancement of tendencies manifesting themselves in “real” space with the creation of access-controlled residential areas for the upper and middle classes and their counterparts, the areas housing the “excluded”, the marginalised social groups.


Loss of Function of Urban Public Space

This loss of function of urban public space due to privatisation is exacerbated by the withdrawal of activities from (semi-) public spheres to private interiors: with the help of modern technology, work can be done in the comfort of your private living room (teleworking) and retailing does not depend on your visit and chat with your local grocer (teleshopping). With the rationalisation of these activities, social interaction is being reduced to its functional components.


The Market is the Driving Force for ICT

ICT is driven by the market. Not only the hardware and the software but also the networks themselves are developed and run by private companies. The state institutions are too late. In any case, there would be the danger of the national state developing a dysfunctional role by trying to control these highly dynamic innovative fields (think of “Minitel”, developed and launched by the French state).

It is also difficult for the national state to set standards in this very dynamic and flexible market, especially with the expected proliferation and diversification of products, enabled by manufacturing on demand which will increase by leaps and bounds.


The Need for Publicly Driven Media Spaces

The information/communication networks, in contrast for example to the network of roads, are privately controlled. But still there is the need to provide public facilities too, as public access to information and non-privately controlled communication environments.

At this turning point, with increased world market domination by information/communication giants, there is a need for public influence on media space, for “a social shaping of the telematics”. It is crucial to establish a more public dimension in these communication environments.

There is a necessity to develop independent public information/communication networks, supporting public, more pluralistic (“bottom-up” instead of “top-down”) communication.


The Need for Public “Hybrid” Spaces

These digital information/communication spaces should be combined with public urban/architectural spaces, public interfaces accessible also to the “unplugged”, creating “hybrid” (digital and “real”) spaces for social interaction.

We should develop public “hybrid” (media and urban) interfaces, enabling everyone to access and influence media environments (to broadcast) from the urban local neighbourhood. These public media urban interfaces would plug the body into the “virtual” media worlds. This link between global media space and local place having its interfaces in the public urban space would counteract the development of privatisation in urban as well as in media space.


Urban Idensities™

In the contradictory dynamics of the network city with its antithetical tendencies of concentration and decentralisation, of functional mix and segregation, traditional terms of spatial distinction are losing validity. In this fragmented urban landscape, categories like “centre” versus “periphery”, “landscape” versus “city”, “functional zoning” such as living, working and recreation, are becoming obsolete.

The polarity of private (domestic) versus public space is disintegrating. Public and private (domestic) environments are becoming intermingled and blurring in the fusions of media and “real” space: for example in the “hybrid” spaces of the publicly broadcasted privacies of “reality TV” and the “Big Brothers” or in the media presence of war intruding on the peacefulness of our private living rooms.

To understand these fusions, this superimposition and the interactions of media and “real” urban spaces, the new term ‘idensity™’ is introduced, replacing the obsolete conventional terms of spatial distinction. ‘Idensity™’ does not differentiate between information/communication networks and urban/architectural environments and it offers an integrated model for dealing with “hybrid” (media and “real”) space in the information/communication age.

The ‘idensity™’-model can incorporate the widest range of future (communication) spaces:

– from the ‘tele-feeder unit at your neighbourhood’s laundrette’, a public infrastructure for teleshopping, telelearning or teledemocracy (see below),

– to new “club” facilities, providing the space for “hybrid” (media and “real” space) events on a larger urban scale (see below),

– or the combined media and “real” space of your bank, presenting itself in its telebanking application with the corporate identity of its “real” architectural building while fusing in the representational entry of its headquarters a high-touch architectural space with the media spaces of its net presence, in the form of monitors, projections, etc. (just visit your bank).

This new term ‘idensity™’ is implemented to describe and analyse the communication spaces of the coming “network society”, a society not so much based on the traditional, relatively static structures of belonging in the family, the corporation or the state, but on flexible, dynamic, ever-changing networks of exchange and communication. It carries the discussion on the urban from the morphological level of a formal description of the network patterns of the “network city” to a more integrated structural understanding of the networks of spaces for social communication.

‘Idensity™’ is a composite term consisting of the combination of the word “density” of real (urban) and “virtual” (media) communication spaces (density of connections) and of the word “identity”. But it is not a mere summation of these two terms; it is rather a fusion, as it inverts “identity”, linking it to communication: “identity” being defined by connectivity.

‘Idensity™’ does not just address the “clear-cut identity, the particularity, the individuality of the traditional places or cites (like centres and monuments)” but also the layered ‘idensity™’ of the “non-lieux” (“non-places”) which are to be found especially in the realms of mobility and consumption (airports, hotels, shopping malls, motorway rest areas, etc.). Thus ‘idensity™’ can deal with today’s “generic cities”, where these same (chain-)shops, cafés etc. pop up, levelling local differences and rendering places around the globe interchangeable. ‘Idensity™’ does not refer to object-qualities but describes a field of superimposed communication spaces: the branded space of the chain-shop, the symbolic space of the traditional building the shop is housed in, the media space of teleshopping, the communication space of the GSM…


Idensities™ of the Urbanite

In the last year of the 20th century, a big campaign was launched in Holland: on most billboards in major or minor cities, men and women, youngsters and the elderly – the average Dutch person – were declaring “ik ben Ben”. This was not the mass expression of an identity crisis, but an advertising campaign for the introduction of the new GSM company called “Ben”, targeting the public at large. The advertising slogan was based on a simple play on words, “ben” meaning in Dutch “I am” and “Ben” being a common male name as well as the name of the mobile phone company. But what makes this slogan such an interesting expression of our times is its definition of identity (I am: Ik ben) as connectivity (“Ben” being the network provider). The ‘idensity™’ of the urbanite being defined as the density of the (superimposed media/”real”) communication spaces.

In February 2000 it was announced: “Ik Ben een jaar”.

“The new image of Man looks roughly like this: we have to imagine a network of interhuman relations, a ‘field of intersubjective relations’. The threads of this web must be conceived as channels through which information (ideas, feelings, intentions and knowledges, etc.) flows. These threads get temporarily knotted and form what we call ‘human subjects’. The totality of the threads constitutes the concrete sphere of life and the knots are abstract extrapolations. […] The density of the webs of interhuman relations differs from place to place within the network. The greater the density the more ‘concrete’ the relations. These dense points form wave troughs in the field […] The wave troughs exert an ‘attractive’ force on the surrounding field (pulling it into their gravitational field) so that more and more interhuman relations are drawn in from the periphery. […] These wave troughs shall be called ‘cities’.” (V. Flusser, “Die Stadt als Wellental in der Bilderflut”, 1990.)

The term ‘idensity™’ is a conceptual tool for researching and developing space in the information/communication age.


Planning from Prognosis to the Processing of Change

6.1.1 The Limitations of Prognosis
The acceleration of technological innovation, abrupt changes within the global economic and political order, individualistic lifestyles and a succession of very different types of accommodation/premises make urban/regional developments highly unpredictable.
The modernist belief in (scientific) methods of prognosis of urban phenomena have too often proved to be misleading. With regard to ICT developments, the limitations of prognosis become even more apparent: the dramatic breakthrough of the PC and the Internet were not predicted.

6.1.2 Supporting Change and Processing the Unplannable
As the instruments of prognosis are failing us, we need to rethink the possibilities and the mechanisms of urban/regional planning as well as the role of the state as “actor”, “infrastructural agent” or “quality controller” within the planning process.
We need to develop long-term instruments (sustainability) as well as short-term, flexible tools (for example special experimental zones, etc.) for dealing with the dynamisms of growth.
Planning has therefore to research and to develop strategies and instruments for processing change, for encouraging, facilitating and connecting the ongoing processes of urban growth and transformation, for supporting the plural forces shaping our environment.
Planning has to invert, to change into the processing of the unplannable. Still, for reasons of clarity, this text will continue using the term “planning” (instead of the perhaps more appropriate term ‘un-planning’).

6.1.3 Developing Visions of our Environment
The processing of change is not just the management of ongoing changes, following and reacting to market forces. By providing public communication spaces for the processing of the “new”, planning can develop “market-forcing” strategies.


Planning between Laissez-faire and Control

Urbanism is caught up in the dilemma of either trying to realise the dream of the omnipotence of planning or accepting being powerless in the face of the forces of the market: on the one hand, the modernist belief in scientific methods of determination and control of the urban phenomena violating entire cities, on the other hand, the neoliberal positions giving in to the interests of privatisation and declaring the dynamics of the market to be the only legitimate determinants of urban developments.

Facing the consequences of both positions today, new strategies for public interventions in the urban have to be developed.


Providing Infrastructures

The “planning” interventions (we might have to invent a more appropriate word) will not be about the control and the determination of space, but about providing infrastructures, expanding the fields of interaction of plural forces, the reservoir for the selection processes needed for the urban socio-economic transformations.

Based on the model of ‘idensity™’, instruments have to be developed to manage the densities (of connections) of urban and media communication spaces (infrastucture and interfaces), to enhance the differences between the nodes of the “network city” and strengthen the coherence of the “dual city”.


The Infrastructural Paradigm in Urban/Regional Planning

By intervening in the realm of infrastructures, planning can also adopt their concept and follow their paradigm. Planning would incorporate an inherently flexible approach, expanding the field of possibilities of social interaction and opening new paths of urban development. Urbanism would therefore not be about shaping, inscribing or determining places, but about creating spatial frameworks which would allow and enhance a variety of unpredictable developments.


“Bottom-up” Strategies as Strategies for Defending Plurality

“Bottom-up” strategies can be implemented to enhance the innovative powers of urban environments. Rather than defining first the global result of the interaction and then determining the necessary relation between the elements in order to produce that interaction (which would be a “top-down” approach), simple rules for a set of independent elements should be developed: that which would emerge from the interaction of these elements is open. According to biological models, these fields of interaction of plural forces can serve as a reservoir for the selection processes needed for urban transformations.


“Quality Control”

As the freedom in the choice of location increases, the advantages or disadvantages of a special locality gain in importance. Next to good ICT and transportation infrastructure, the quality of an environment is a crucial factor for the choice of location for individuals and enterprises.

Quality of the built environment, quality of public space, environmental qualities, but also the innovative power of an environment (see above) and the identity of a place (see below) should be recognised as important factors in the choice of location and should thus be raised. Holland, with its tradition of low-budget building and its continuous urban landscape, should develop a “policy of quality” (and not only of equality).


Enhancing Identities

By strengthening the identities of the locale, cities position themselves and compete in the global market. The support and the protection of the identity of place (protection of cultural landscapes, for example) are therefore important issues for planning.

The model of ‘idensity™’ can be implemented to deal not only with the clear-cut identity of historical sites but also with the layered identities of the contemporary “generic” city.


Image Policies

Localities enhance their images by emphasising and marketing their identities. Cities develop image policies and communicate “urban brands”. Planning will thus also be about the marketing of places, about the development and the communication of urban images.

Media space (television, Internet) is an important communication tool for these urban image campaigns. Media space is forming the perception of “real” urban space and thus influencing strongly the “reality” of (urban) place.


The “Hybrid” (Media and Urban) Economy of Events

These image-campaigns of “place-marketing” are developed in strategic collaborations of private and public actors. These media campaigns are integral parts of the programs of the “hybrid” (media and urban) “economy of events” (see Event City). In partnerships with private companies and agencies, urban governance can therefore strengthen a more public dimension in the “hybrid” (media and urban) event-industry.

and the
Urban/Regional Planning

Processing Information

ICT can help in the processing of the extremely complex and dynamic information related to the ongoing planning of our environment. Specialised planning “Expert Systems” with integrated planning regulations, for example, simulate and support the decision process of planning experts.

ICT is indispensable for the processing of the highly complex and dynamic data required for the sustainable planning of our environment.


Computing the Unpredictable?

Nevertheless ICT should not be mistaken for an instrument for prognosis, even if the fact that it is based on mathematical operations gives it a certain air of objectivity, a certain credibility. The “new” always includes the integration of unexpected factors and cannot be predicted just by extrapolating and combining existing data. Therefore today’s ICT presents limitations as a tool for prognosis.

Visualising Complex Data

ICT can help grasp – and thus deal with – highly complex data. ICT can make the visualisation of abstract numeric information in diagrams, for instance, as easy as a mouse-click. It can support the visual organisation of complexes of interconnected (x-dimensional) information.

Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology that gives the user an immersive perception, enabling him to navigate and to interact in real time with a computer-generated spatial environment. Virtual Reality is developing into a very important tool for planners, providing simulations of urban projects, experienced, for example, in the special immersive environments, the so-called “CAVEs”, and via Internet (networked VR).

Virtual Reality supports collaboration within teams of experts. Virtual Reality as a powerful visualisation tool also helps to communicate projects to laymen and can be used to involve the public in the planning process.


Making Information Accessible

Information/communication networks enable public information and open up communication, enhancing the trend towards a more transparent state. Through information/communication networks (World Wide Web) civilians can access “Expert Systems”, for example, or view simulations of (projects on) the urban environment.

ICT not only establishes more open external communication to the public (Internet) but also supports more transparent internal communication within the framework of planning institutions (Intranets). This will reinforce the trend towards the flattening of institutional hierarchies. It will also strengthen the ties between the different state institutions on a national level and will support transnational collaboration (for planning border regions, for example). Planning institutions will have to adapt and restructure.


Exteriorising the Planning Process

Similar to the way that the consumer information available on the net is empowering consumer organisations (comparing prizes, controlling quality, etc.), easy access for civilians to information on planning issues will support the forming of urban interest and pressure groups. As visualisation techniques such as computer simulations support the communication of planning issues to laymen, citizens will get involved more easily in the planning process. Urban interest groups will exercise a stronger influence in the decision processes.

The planning process will be exteriorised. Planning institutions will open or even invert as planning increasingly develops into the steering of a public discussion process. Urban interest groups and initiatives will gain in influence. Urban/regional planning, as public communication about our environment, will become increasingly important within the socio-political process of developing communal visions.


Providing Communication Spaces and Involving the Public

The information/communication networks also provide platforms for discussion open to the public. A broad range of one-to-one and one-to-many mass media spaces, of digital platforms for public discussion on planning issues, will emerge. Urban interest groups and initiatives will experiment, using elements of the culture of the so-called “virtual communities”.

Information/communication networks provide the opportunity to involve the public at an early stage in the planning process of big infrastructural works, for instance. Introducing public discussion at an early stage enables a more integrative process of public consensus. It also strengthens the public control of political will and drives the integrative processes of developing visions of the urban environment.

Media spaces, focused on the discussion of the future of our regional (thus transnational) environments will function as generators of local identity (and trust). These media spaces, specialised in the communication of (local/regional) planning issues will become increasingly significant. They will support and enhance the regionalisation of politics, a trend that is emerging as a counterbalance to the developments of economic globalisation.


Supporting a Public Event Industry

With the convergence of Internet and digital television (the ‘media model’), we will witness a whole new range of media communication spaces dealing with issues of our environment. In these media spaces targeting urban issues, rational discussion will mix with the seductive elements of pop-culture. This (infotainment) trend, making these specialised communication spaces more attractive to the public, is embedded in the general development of politics into a media event and in the merging of political culture with popular culture.

One-to-one and one-to-many mass media events, communicating urban (planning) issues or promoting local image policies, will be developed by independent interest groups and by public agencies (including the state planning institutions). These will introduce a more public dimension in the urban event economy, in co-operation with the symbolic economies of tourism, entertainment, culture and sports, in strategic collaborations with selected private actors.


Generating Public “Hybrid” Spaces

These media events should be integral parts of the programs of the “hybrid” (media and urban) event industry. Next to solemnly digital discussion platforms, public communication spaces on planning issues should be designed as “hybrid” spaces: public digital/media communication spaces combined with public urban/architectural spaces, accessible also to the “unplugged”.

Local urban “hybrid” centres (as accelerated combinations of the networked environments of clubs, the stock exchange and Parliament…) should be developed. Such public media urban interfaces could serve as special public infrastructure for the planning of big infrastructural works, for example. Of course as a first step, such urban experimental zones for planning could be tested in a simple virtual version (meaning without the urban/architectural infrastructural equivalents).


Public Media Interfaces for Urban Planning

Bridging the gap and connecting the media spheres (Internet, digital television) with local urban content and place, a new, public, combined analog-digital infrastructure is introduced. Public media urban interfaces, publicly accessible interfaces between the media space and the urban place.

Exploiting the potential of media and fusing the media concepts of the telephone

(with its one-to-one communication) and the television (one-to-all broadcasting) makes it possible to create a many-to-many broad- and narrow-casting and -catching system (Internet). Local broadcasts can be reinforced to temporarily invade media space to a greater or lesser extent, creating a locally-based dynamic media network from the bottom up.

A locally-based public interface forms the primary unit of the network of public media urban interfaces. These public neighbourhood ‘feeder houses’, distributed evenly within an urban zone, are “hybrid” (combined media and “real”) environments. At these networked neighbourhood facilities (situated, for example, at your local launderette), the public can view the narrow/broadcasting activities of other ‘feeder houses’. Interactive technology enables the public to intervene in those narrow/broadcasts but also creates the possibility to establish direct contacts, thus forming endless smaller networks within the larger framework of public media urban interfaces.

As sophisticated, larger versions of the neighbourhood ‘feeder houses’, special clubs provide the space for “hybrid” (combined media and “real”) public events on a larger urban scale. In these “hybrid” clubs, programs that deserve a larger audience get selected (from the ones that are just meant for local distribution). Using the more sophisticated broadcast facilities available to the club, the selected programs are experienced and transformed to suit a mass audience.

A publicly distributed ‘Air Time for All’ Smart Card allows you to produce and narrow/broadcast and also gives you the opportunity to adopt a message (not your own) by giving it extra Air Time. At the neighbourhood ‘feeder house’, you will find the necessary programming facilities to make your program and the means to monitor it as it goes on the air. You can also accelerate messages (not your own) by giving them extra broadcasting time with the help of the special Smart-Card. And as a message gains strength, its chances of reaching a much larger audience increase, reaching more ‘feeder houses’, a Club, the city or even the whole country, Europe and the rest of the world.

As politics moves into the space of mass media, the right to direct public media access, the right to broadcast, is becoming increasingly important.


Urban/Regional Planning and the Politics of the Future

With the strengthening of (urban/local) interest groups, the processing of urban transformations (what we today call “urban/regional planning”) will become more and more a public affair. The processing of urban transformations, the processing of the unplannable, will develop into an increasingly central element of future politics, of the future locally-networked state.

We can already observe that citizens are more interested and get more easily involved in the development of their direct localities than in the abstract “state”. Public involvement in the decision-making process concerning urban localities will support this trend of the regionalisation of politics (as part of and as a counterbalancement to globalisation).

The processing of urban transformations will become more and more instrumental in the socio-political process of developing communal visions. Urban/regional ‘un-planning’, transformed into an event-communication (space) and entertainment zone, will become an important element in the increasingly mediatised politics of the future.


Information/communication networks and media spaces do influence “real” place. ICT contributes to the transformation of the urban into a more heterarchical network structure (“network city”) and supports the specialisation of “real” space as a space for physical encounter and experience.

Information/communication networks and media spaces also interact and fuse with “real” space, generating series of new “hybrid” (media and “real”) networked environments, ranging, for example, from the networked home to the stock exchange, etc..

In this “dark age” of the information/communication era, we have limited experience and understanding of (the far-reaching consequences of) these phenomena. However, at this early stage, the situation is open for a “social shaping of the telematics”, for the strengthening of the public dimension of these media communication spaces.

Public actors (including the state planning institutions) should therefore influence these developments. They should support research within this new field dealing with the interaction between urban/regional planning and architecture, not only with information/communication networks (a technology-based approach) but also with the media (a content-based approach, also considering spatial, communicational aspects). Experimental virtual planning zones should be investigated. “Hybrid” (urban and media) networks and “hybrid” spaces (architectural and media) spaces should be designed.

In addition to scientific research and higher education (combining scientific with artistic fields), ideas and proposals should be tested in project-based experiments. As for the development of such a new, dynamic field, the methods of scientific research and experimental testing do present limitations (of following on developments); these should be supported and complemented by speculative, artistic research, being an innovative, creative method to process and generate the ‘new’.

Holland could be an excellent experimental environment. It combines a tradition of social tolerance, a high level of education, a cultural atmosphere that has a positive attitude towards modernisation, a (European) creative approach with experimental architectural/urbanistic practice. Holland has the potential to develop into such a laboratory “for the unplannable” (for the generating of the ‘new’).

Within the context of the “network”-paradigm, the potential of information/communication networks as tools for urban/regional planning should be considered. By facilitating public involvement, ICT is supporting transformations in the process of urban/regional planning itself. Thus, with the influence of ICT and media, planning will change and ‘exteriorise’, being transformed into a public debate for obtaining consensus and developing visions on our environment.

Urban/regional ‘un-planning’, transformed into an event-communication (space), could develop into a central element of the increasingly mediatised, regionalised and globalised politics of the future.

© Sikiaridi / Vogelaar, Amsterdam March 2000.


For a concise description of contemporary urban tendencies and policies see:

Eeckhout, Bart and Steven Jacobs (1999) ‘Space’, pp. 15-55 and ‘Community’, pp. 57-104 in D. De Meyer and K. Versluys (eds.) The Urban Condition: Space, Community and Self in the Contemporary Metropolis, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

For a thorough analysis of the influences of ICT on society, economy and culture see:

Castells, Manuel (1996) The Rise of the Network Society, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

For an analysis of the interaction of telecommunications and the urban see:

Graham, Stephen and Simon Marvin (1996) Telecommunications and the City: Electronic Spaces, Urban Places, London: Routledge.

For a description of contemporary (and future) influences of ICT on the urban see:

Mitchell, William J. (1999) E-topia: “Urban life, Jim – but not as we know it”, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

On the contemporary challenges of urbanism (from a German perspective) see:

Sieverts, Thomas (1999) ‘Die Stadt der Zweiten Moderne. Eine europäische Perspektive’, pp. 16-25 in P. Neitzke, C. Steckeweh and R. Wustlich (eds.) CENTRUM 1999-2000. Jahrbuch Architektur und Stadt, Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag für Architektur and Gütersloh: Bertelsman Fachzeitschriften.

On the crisis of public space see:

Sorkin, Michael (ed.) (1990) Variations on a Theme Park: the New American City and the End of Public Space, New York: Hill and Wang.

For Dutch publications of projects on ‘Networked Architecture’ and ‘Soft Urbanism’ that we have been developing since 1989, see for example:

Hinte, Ed van (1995) ‘Media Babies – een digitale infrastructuur voor Londen’, items 14, 6: 22-23,

Sikiaridi, Elizabeth and Frans Vogelaar (1997) ‘Soft Urbanism – Grensvlakken van publiek, media en stad’, de Architect 28, 6: 42-47.


Elizabeth Sikiaridi (Professor Dipl.-Ing. architect, Universität Essen; Hybrid Space Lab, Amsterdam)

Frans Vogelaar (Professor for Hybrid Space/Medialer Raum, Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln; Hybrid Space Lab, Amsterdam)

the use of space
in the
communication age