Notes From the Field

Notes From the Field

by / August 31, 1997
"Cities have a choice, to aggressively embrace information technology as a catalyst for transforming life and work in the 21st century, or be cut off from the mainstream of economic development."

-- John Eger

Editor in Chief

In the glory days of Athens, this city-state rose to power and gave birth to democracy. America itself grew from a patchwork of independent townships that coalesced into a confederation of states that later became a nation.

The early years of the industrial revolution saw the emergence of powerful economic regions with strong cities at their core -- places like New York, London, Detroit and Pittsburgh were all fueled by a geographic proximity to natural resources and transportation systems such as shipping and railroads.

At the turn of the century, the industrial revolution began to sow seeds of urban decay in the regions it helped create. It wasn't long after its introduction that Henry Ford's automobile -- combined with asphalt, cheap gasoline and poor public planning -- gave birth to suburban flight and the "hollowing out" of many of America's great cities. This urban entropy continued to such an extent that according to a study conducted several years ago by San Diego State University's International Center for Communications, at least 65 of America's largest cities were dying, with many losing relevance as governing units.

Today, as the world moves into a new century, critical issues are being raised regarding the role of cities in a global, post-industrial economy. To help public-sector leaders at the national, state and local levels successfully navigate this uncharted new territory, an important new organization -- The World Foundation for Smart Communities -- was launched in August.

This new, not-for-profit foundation is the brainchild of John Eger, former director of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy for Presidents Nixon and Ford and senior vice president for CBS Broadcast Group. For the last several years, Eger has been chairman of the California Institute for Smart Communities, where he has directed a multi-year effort on behalf of the state of California to study the convergence of public policy, economics and digital technology, and its impact on local and regional governance.

Eger's work has convinced him that the cornerstone to future economic and political growth resides not in centralized national governments but in a network of emerging economic regions, each with a core of technology-rich, "wired" cities.

As an example, Eger cites Singapore, an island state of 360 square kilometers that several years ago launched the Intelligent Island Project, building an advanced digital/telecommunications infrastructure that has turned the small nation into one of Southeast Asia's major economic leaders. In fact, according to one report, some 4,000 multinational corporations have cited Singapore's "electronic infrastructure" as a key factor in basing their Southeast Asian operations there.

To compete with Singapore, nearby Malaysia recently announced an ambitious multi-year project to create a "multimedia super corridor." The Malaysian government and its partners will not only invest billions of dollars in laying down a digital infrastructure, but plans call for fully integrating the technology into "smart schools," "electronic government centers" and telemedicine applications.

Back in the United States, Eger has worked closely with San Diego Mayor Golding to create that region's Cities of the Future Committee involving some 100 public, private and nonprofit groups in planning and development efforts to position San Diego for a global, wired future.

Throughout this process, the California Institute has done groundbreaking research to isolate critical success factors that constitute "smart communities." It is from this rich background and ongoing national and international research that the World Foundation will serve its government and industry membership as they plan for their own cities of the future. It is Eger's vision that cities will once again become powerful economic, political and social hubs, as they were in ancient Greece.

This month, the Foundation will host its first World Forum on Smart Communities in cooperation with the European Commission. The event, to be held September 8 -12 in Nice, France and in Rome, will draw senior policymakers from Europe, Asia and North America. On December 10 and 11, the World Foundation will co-host the 4th Annual Cities of The Future Conference in Los Angeles.

To find out more about the World Foundation for Smart Communities, contact John Eger at 619/551-0051 or via e-mail at .

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