Government Technology

Commentary: Smart Growth, Smart Cities and the Crisis at the Pump

July 11, 2008 By


Expensive fuel drives rethinking of community -- photo by Corey McKenna

By some reports, the cost of gasoline knows no limits. With China consuming ever more fuel to support a rapid-growing economy, a declining dollar and the constant threat of turmoil in the world, we will only see costs escalating.

Some families are driving less, or trading in their SUVs or gas-guzzlers for something more efficient, and some are moving to be closer to their work. Maybe now we will start thinking differently about our cities, indeed our region, and the urgent need to redefine our community.

For decades, urban affairs columnist and author Neal Peirce has trumpeted the underappreciated importance of "citistates," which he defines as "one or more historic central cities surrounded by cities and towns which have a shared identification, function as a single zone for trade, commerce and communication, and are characterized by social, economic and environmental interdependence."

In a very real sense, the shift from an industrial to an information society is the raison d'être for revisiting the American love affair with the automobile and asking some very tough questions about its role in the new economy. By doing so, we will begin to open the door to new thinking about the architecture of our cities and renewing their place in our lives. The current oil crisis, as it is being called, may be the point where we start making some decisions about smart growth, urban sprawl and density.

If we are to capitalize on this shift in which telecommunications becomes a substitute for transportation, we must make some conscious decisions to change our habits. Given the spread and influence of the Internet we now have a choice: to get in our car for a loaf of bread or a book or CD, or get online; to push for mass transit and/or light rail, to argue for "car free" zones and "walkable communities." To accept density as a way or life or risk for all time the chance to rebuild our cities.

No technology in human history is having, or is likely to have, such tremendous influence on life and work and play, and in the transforming process, on our physical space. The fuel crisis gives us further excuse to start doing something.

While a "smart community" -- a community which makes a conscious decision to aggressively deploy technology as a catalyst to solving its social and business needs --- will undoubtedly focus on building its high- speed broadband infrastructures, the real opportunity is in rebuilding and renewing a sense of place, and in the process, a sense of civic pride.

The concept of cities as engines of civilization remains deeply embedded in our collective psyche. As cities of the past were built along railroads, waterways and interstate highways, cities of the future will be built along information highways -- broadband communication links to homes, schools and offices, hospitals and cultural centers, and through the World Wide Web to millions of other locations all over the world.

Some cities will become the ghost towns of the twenty-first century Information Age. Some will succeed and survive in this next transition to a knowledge-based, global information economy and society. Indeed, cities of the future: the smart and sustainable communities or mega regions -- built for the Digital Age -- will play a central role in the rebirth of civilization in the 21st century.

The purpose of the city, as an Athenian scholar once observed, is "to bring people together" in harmony with one another and with their environment for "economic gain and glory." We can no longer do that if we don't use technology as a tool of transformation; if we are unwilling to see that the Internet has offered us an alternative to our reliance on the automobile; if we do not rethink our land use and smart-growth policies.

Eger, the Van Deerlin endowed chair of communications and public policy in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University, is President of the Foundation for Smart Communities (


| More


Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Meeting Constituents Where They Are With Dynamic, Real-Time Mobile Engagement
Leveraging the proven and open Kofax Mobile Capture Platform, organizations can rapidly integrate powerful mobile engagement solutions across the spectrum of mobile image capture, mobile data capture and complete mobile process integration. Kofax differentiates itself by extending capture to mobility, supporting multiple points of constituent engagement. Kofax solutions dynamically orchestrate the user’s mobile experience from a single platform—reducing time to market, improving process perf
Public Safety 2019
Motorola conducted an industry survey on the latest trends in public safety communications. The results provide an outlook of what technology is in store for your agency in the next five years. Download the results to gain this valuable insight.
Improving Emergency Response with Digital Communications
Saginaw County, Mich., increases interoperability, communication and collaboration with a digital voice and data network, as well as modern computer-aided dispatch.
View All

Featured Papers