Monday, October 13, 2008

Cities Part V - Case Studies

Restructuring Writ Invisibly – Cellular Telephone Systems as a Means for Tracking Urban Circulation

Christopher Bertaut’s main hypothesis is that existing roadways and roadway traffic determines the spatial layout of cellular facilities. Using a case study approach he compares roadway networks, traffic counts, and cell tower construction around Gwinnet Co. (Atlanta), Georgia and shows a strong correspondence between the road systems and the location and spacing of cell towers. He concludes that cell phone services are at most an enabling factor in the restructuring of the county. Bertaut generalizes by relating his findings to Graham’s argument that space of places is strongly tied to exiting infrastructures. Bertaut predicts that cell phone use will increase as companies become more horizontal and break into smaller operating units. He also predicts the increase in cell phone use in cars, but fails to mention the “hang-up and drive” backlash.

The Political Salience of the Space of Flows – ICT and the Restructuring City

Alan Southern frames his analysis around Castell’s notions of informational mode of development and space of flows. In essence - if Castell’s is right then cities need to build these frameworks into their economic development / restructuring plans. Southern looks at the city of Sunderland’s (England) local economic development plan and notes how they integrated an ICT component.

Sunderland’s telematics strategy (which is an extension of their previous economic plans) includes four core themes:

1. Infrastructure
2. New Inward Development (i.e., developing a workforce that will attract and support ICT)
3. Life Long Learner (i.e., retraining a flexible knowledge-based workforce)
4. Quality of Life (e.g., more access to information, especially for re-training the work force and making local planning decisions)

In the end, the argument is that local governments can (and should) play a role in shaping the space of flows.

People Versus Place –Telecommunications and Flexibility Requirements of the CBD

Leigh uses a cross-case analysis to explore how CBDs (central business districts) in two major cities (Chicago and Atlanta) are (re-)developing in the telecommunications age. She asks: Will vacancies and underutilization lead to the decline of central city CBDs in these cities? Well, it depends on the context… For example, she argues that an inner-city CBD thrives in Chicago, while CBDs in Atlanta developed on the metro fringe.

Leigh uses her findings to challenge some of the arguments laid out by Graham & Marvin and Castells. She suggests that they overstate the continued primacy of central cities (and inner-city CBDs) by paying too little attention to the rise of corporate front offices (not just “back offices) in the suburbs or edge cities (e.g., in the case of Atlanta). In other words, the rise of CBDs in the burbs is not simply an extension of central city, but an entirely new CBD. She points to Sears as an example of a company that moved wholesale from the city (Chicago) to the suburbs. Interestingly, she cites research that links these types of corporate shifts to the residential location of CEOs and workers. That is, CEOs and workers want their offices close to where they live (i.e., the suburbs). She also claims that cheap land and lease rates, ample parking, and flexible design (especially being able to design buildings that meet new the technology needs) facilitate the growth of suburban / metro fringe CBDs.

As mentioned, Leigh complicates this formula by noting that Chicago was able to maintain a downtown CBD. Reasons for this include:

Older buildings were retrofit to support ICT
Chicago has a well-developed inner-city metro system
The city used zoning, land use planning, incentives, environmental remediation to (re)-create a “live and work” central city
Face-to-face is still needed (especially in select sectors – e.g., access to courts, city hall, etc.)

Her study moves the debate forward by supplying empirical evidence and findings that complicate things.

Travel, Gender, and Work – Emerging Commuting Choices in Inner-City Phoenix

Elizabeth Burns presents a case study of commuting behavior to and from inner-city Phoenix. First, she looks at broad regional survey data related to resident and non-resident commuting patterns. Then, she focuses on two cases. The first looks at telecommuting in Phoenix and the second looks at commuting behaviors associated with a specific workplace – Sky Harbor International Airport. She is interested in a few questions: 1) What do commuter patterns look like in Phoenix? 2) How do these patterns breakdown in relation to gender, residence, and occupation? 3) What do these patterns tell us about changes in the workplace or the amount of flexibility workers have when it comes to traveling to and from work?

Here are some of her findings:

1) telecommuting in Phoenix is not prevalent (2% telecommute once a week and only half of this group telecommutes more than one day a week)
2) telecommuting needs to be considered in relation to specific work locations and occupations
3) flexible scheduling is more common than telecommuting (20% of the workers in the study have compressed schedules) Burns suggests that this might be a reaction to decentralization – i.e., longer shifts over fewer days equals less commuting
4) decentralized development patterns are not aligned with the Phoenix public transportation system, so decentralization promotes car travel (for comparison, think of taking the bus to Middleton)
5) occupation (and potentially related factors such as class) is a factor in determining whether or not a worker will carpool
6) more women than men telecommute, but occupation is a key factor (e.g., women telecommute to jobs in education and public administration, while men telecommute to manufacturing locations).

Burns use of case studies is helpful in pushing back at some of the broader arguments highlighted earlier in the book. She also gets us a little closer to understanding how some of the themes and arguments from the book play out, or perhaps more importantly, don’t play out in cities (especially when you look across class, gender, occupation, etc.). It seems that there is still some room to build on these cases. For example, exploring workers’ individual circumstances, stories and lived experiences as they relate to decisions over where to work (and how to get there) would further contextualize the survey data.


Davita Veselenak said...

Part IV of Cities in the Telecommunications Age features several empirical demonstrations of the impacts of telecommunications and the contradictory tendencies that we discussed with the first half of the text.

Beyers focuses on information-oriented businesses in the New Economy. These producer services are growing in number and increasingly located in nonmetropolitan areas. Beyers offers us the terms “Lone Eagles” (proprietors with strong nonlocal markets) and “High Fliers” (business with more than one employee). Both are export-oriented and situated distant from their clients. Despite the goal of geographically expanding their external markets, face-to-face meetings still remain important for these producer services. Social factors also play a part in where companies, employers, and employees choose to locate. The need for interaction leads Beyers to conjecture that in the future, most firms will select urban locations despite locational freedom. This makes the structural logics of the New Economy not so new after all, Beyers concludes.

Audretsch and Feldman examine innovative activity, including the geographic boundedness of knowledge spillovers and the phenomenon of innovative activity occurring in clusters. The propensity to cluster spatially is shaped by what stage an industry is at in its life cycle. Audretsch and Feldman address debates centered on, generally speaking, the relationship between knowledge and geography. For example, in their analysis they find that industries with a common science base tend to cluster geographically.

Hackler’s chapter presents a trend not of agglomeration, but rather decentralizaiton in IT-intensive manufacturing industries. IT industries are “footloose,” as supported by Hackler’s empirical analysis wherein he finds decentralization in New York and Los Angeles, and an overall trend toward growth in IT firms located in counties outside of major cities. Hackler’s notes the importance of second-tier cities in IT industries, as they “seem to account for greater proportions of high-IT-intensive manufacturing establishments” (p. 213).

Mugerauer takes up location theory from a qualitative standpoint. He finds that social factors, including natural and cultural environments, and amenities factor into location decisions for members of the high tech community. Utilitarian factors matter as well, though these categories are not easily distinguishable from each other in practice.

Gillespie and Richardson debunk the myths associated with early teleworking predictions. They find the workplace is in fact necessary, based on the importance of physical presence. They also argue telecommunications and ITCs are actually strengthening the role of cities, because they maximize copresence. The idea that teleworking would eliminate the need to travel is also found to have opposite tendencies, such as increased travel distances, and more car-dependency accompanying the expanded spaces where work is conducted.

richard said...

Some general observations ...

Part iv begins with “impacts of technology” title (and then part v the "effects of telecom technology") ... again I'm attentive to the claims of causality being made within these discussions. While the authors seem quick to renounce technological determinism, ICTs still play an increasingly evident role within the webs of causality between people, culture, landscape, history, and geography. What is this role?

I was excited to see the notion of "geography of innovation" raised, but then a bit disappointed to see how narrowly Audretsch and Feldman operationalize it. Innovation is a creative process and practice, but they have reduced it to only those resulting in a market commodity, thereby re-enforcing a capitalist conception of value. Innovation can be so much more (artistic, philosophic, scientific ...). Also, their approach fails to account for the tremendous amount of innovation happening on the web in the 'open source' sector, ideas and inventions that do not directly enter into the GDP.

Nice to see Mugerauer's ethnographic approach follow the overly-quantitative methods (though the scope of his analysis seems a bit limited). His is a first step ... these clusters of utilitarian factors and interpersonal relationships are a point of departure for further (mixed method) investigation.

Dale said...

Today we mentioned technology out-pacing society - such as making bus information availble through iphones that people like me don't have. Clearly there are problems with this: my 15 year old sister was once stranded at the mall, having gone there unaware that all payphones had been removed and not owning a cell phone on which to call home and ask for a ride. Yet there are ways to overcome some technology problems. When I was in Norway, I did not speak the language or know a thing about the public transportation system; but each bus stop had a nice electronic sign that had a bus number and a time when that bus would be at the stop. It was fantastically convenient and helpful - technology let me make efficient use of a transportation system that I could not get information about in a traditional way (reading a bus schedule or asking someone).

Finally, speaking of technology out-pacing life, I just read this article about tonight's debate: The debate will start at 8pm, this article was posted at 4:41pm, yet the whole thing is written in a past tense that suggests the event already occurred....