Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Berkeley Planning Journal is an annual peer-reviewed journal published by graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) at the University of California, Berkeley since 1985.

Technology and Planning

Issue cover

Editorial Notes

An Introduction to the 2001 Issue of the Berkeley Planning Journa

Planners have always been deeply interested in and concerned about the effects of technology on human settlements. There is a rich and var­ ied literature on technics and civilization, to borrow from Mumford's brilliant account ( 193 4). Whether looking at machines, autos, comput­ ers or the Internet, this literature provides a rich treasure-trove of social and historical analysis. This issue of the Berkeley Planningjournal makes a contribution to this topic by examining the effects of technology on planning and urban and regional development. The editors of the Berke­ley Planningjournal have selected four articles on this topic. Each pro­vides a distinctly different perspective on technology's impacts on plan­ ning and urban development.

Book Reviews

Book review of Hollow City: the Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism

Solnit and Schwartzenberg chronicle the real Y2k problem in San Francisco: a fin de siècle real estate boom and accelerated crisis of hous- ing displacement, as experienced by the City’s artists and cultural activ- ists. It’s the direct result of the World Wide Web, the propulsive growth of the internet economy, and a more long-standing spillover of unmet housing demand from the fabled Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco. Class conflict is front and center as developers and ‘dot-com-mers,’ fu- eled by incomes inflated with venture capital, threaten the homes and haunts of a particularly vital arts community. Over the course of several generations, San Francisco artists have turned voluntary poverty and “marginality” into an industry of culture—an economic force in a global city fed by tourism, corporate headquarters, and grants from the Na- tional Endowment for the Arts.

Book Review: The Deliberative Practitioner: Encouraging Participatory Planning Processes by John Forester

Since the 1980’s, when the ‘specter’ of state intervention was at last being exorcised from models of planning practice, planning profession- als have been caught in a malaise. In an era of ascendant neo-liberalism, ‘market-based’ approaches have robbed the profession of some of its former grandeur. Lest we despair, John Forester has spent much of this period relaying the stories of practicing planners in the hope that we may find new values in their experiences. The Deliberative PractitionerisForester’s latest take on this task.

In this book, we see contemporary planners telling themselves how significant their work is — before leaving their houses, while at their desks, or caught in a routine meeting. By focusing on the day-to-day, Forester’s work is an important example how the justification of plan- ning can take new form. Where before the ‘public good’ justified plan- ning at a macroscopic scale - which implied state intervention - here we find justification through the planner’s routine roles in the processes of participation.

Book review of William J. Mitchell's E-TOPIA "Urban life, Jim - but not as we know it"

The author describes a wide variety of new digital technologies with suggestive questions on their implications for changing the physical and socialexperienceoftheurbanenvironment. Herangesfreely(andlightly), across theory, technology, and visionary hype, while seeding the text with references to Aristotle, Plato, Mumford and McLuhan, and figures made familiar by WIRED magazine such as Ted Nelson, early proponent of computers as a tools of personal liberation, and Nicolas Negroponte, founder of MIT’s experimental Media Lab. While no theory is applied consistently, Mitchell does invoke themes from classical urban theory: the value of the agora, the public meeting place, and the nature of com- munity relationships (“without propinquity”) in the emergent e-topia.

Book review of Mary Ellen Hayward and Charles Belfoure's "The Baltimore Roadhouse"

While many urban histories take as their point of departure the works of “great men” or the reflections of American culture though the urban experience, still others examine the influence of technical achievements on urban life. Among the most notable of this latter type is Sam Bass Warner’s,StreetCarSuburbs. Ofcourse,Warner’sbookbeginswiththe manipulation of technology by commercial institutions and ends with theadaptationofurbandwellerstoanewresidentialinstitution. Through- out, the treatment of the material urban form – in this case the physical suburb – seldom transcends generalization. Here enter Mary Ellen Hay- ward and Charles Belfoure in their painstaking treatment of The Balti- more Rowhouse.

A book review of Gerrylynn K. Roberts and Philip Steadman's Pre-Industrial Cities and Technology and Gerrylynn K. Roberts and Philip Stedman's American Cities and Technology: Wilderness to Wired City

The growth of the Internet and the emerging ‘informational economy’ have especially stirred a renewed interest in technology’s role in urban formation, and this timely series of books from the Open University sounds an arrival of such discourses to the mainstream academic curricu- lum. The series emphasizes the relationship between technology and cities, yet it moves beyond a narrow focus on engineering innovation and technological determinism, emphasizing the importance of cultural and political factors in guiding and producing technologies.

A book review of Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton's "The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl"

Other authors are developing physical planning and urban design strategies for the metropolitan region. Foremost among these are Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton, whose book The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl seeks to define regional design as a legitimate field of inquiry.


The Silicon Valley-Hsinchu Connection: Technical Communities and Industrial Upgrading

Silicon Valley in California and the Hsinchu-Taipei region of Taiwan are among the most frequently cited ‘miracles’of the information technology era. The dominant accounts of these successes treat them in isolation, focusing either on free markets, multinationals or the state. This paper argues that the dynamism of these regional economies is attributable to their increasing interdependencies. A community of US-educated Taiwanese engineers has coordinated a decentralized process of reciprocal industrial upgrading by transferring capital, skill, and know-how and by facilitating collaboration between specialist producers in the two regions. This case underscores the significance of technical communities and their institutions in diffusing ideas and organizing production at the global as well as the local level.

A Historical Perspective of Technology and Planning

Technology is our savior. We see, hear and experience this mes- sage constantly in popular culture, from advertisements that demon- strate how technological gadgets make us smarter and perhaps even more likable to forecasts by financial analysts that the information economy will continue to increase wealth for savvy investors. The hype produced by this common message implies that unless we jump on the information age bandwagon, we risk missing out on its vast benefits. Futuristic writers such as Alvin Toffler, Bill Gates, and Nicho- las Negroponte proclaim the arrival of a digital age, in which the conditions of home, work and play are greatly enhanced through the omnipresence of information processing chips in all facets of life. As Christine Boyer puts it, computer technology has become such an important part of life for some people, a way of life that “has bred its own form of transcendental utopianism”.

A “Virtual” Challenge: The Potential Impact of Electronic Commerce on Local Government Revenues

Over the past twenty years many California cities have substan- tially increased their reliance on sales tax revenue. The growth of online shopping threatens to undermine this source of revenue, because taxes are not collected for many electronic commerce transactions. More importantly, cities relying heavily upon tradi- tional retail may lose revenue, depending on how the State de- cides to redistribute taxes from online sales. Alternatives evalu- ated in this article include, redistribution according to the loca- tion of the retailer, location of the consumer (a residence), and population. The potential impacts of online sales growth and rev- enue redistribution are evaluated for Bay Area cities, 15 of which are identified as highly vulnerable, rapidly growing middle class suburbs. In conclusion, the implications of policies to mitigate such impacts are explored.

Technology and Planning: A Note of Caution

This issue of the Berkeley Planning Journal considers the interaction between technology and planning. Such discussions often focus some- what optimistically on the use of information technologies such as geo- graphic information systems (GIS), computer modeling, visual simula- tion software, or the Internet. The assumption is that these are simply tools that planners employ, or that, by extension, society in general em- ploys to meet particular needs. A related assumption is that these and other technologies are value-neutral, rather than actively shaping the goals and agenda of the profession. In this brief essay I would like to take a somewhat different perspective on the subject. I will argue that technol- ogy is a dynamic force that restructures both cities and the mindsets of city planning far more than we usually realize, and that we as planners must become better at stepping back from technology and putting it in its place. As Lewis Mumford warned in works such as Technics and Civilization (1934), much of the influence of technology in the past century was not for the good. It led to overly rapid urban expansion, an inhuman scale of development, sterile modernist architecture, unprecedented con- centrations of economic power, ecological devastation, and many other destructive phenomena. The challenge to planners in the twenty-first century then is to become more aware of the ways in which technology shapes our profession and cities themselves, better at managing the introduction of new technologies (for example new transportation systems), and more sophisticated at balancing technological methods of analysis with more basic tools such as common sense, direct observation, and compassion.


Abstracts and Titles of Recent Student Work

Abstracts and Titles of Recent Student Work

Department of City and Regional Planning University of California at Berkeley