This chapter analyses the Information and Communication Technologies (hereafter referred to as ICT) phenomenon, the opportunities it offers, the potential problems, and the relationship with local policies. It moves on the actions needed to develop, within the Agenda 21 process, a framework able to define some fundamental features for a new spatial theory in the information age, which will eventually consider Information and Communication Technology not just a simple tool, but a crucial aspect of a sustainable policy, capable, if well addressed, to mitigate various current or emerging territorial challenges such as literacy and education, public participation in the planning process, social and geographical divide, institutional transparency, etc.. This chapter will illustrate a framework able to assist politicians and planners in planning a sustainable development through ICT.
As claimed by several authors, we live in the information age (Masuda, 1981; Castells, 1996, 2002). An era where knowledge and information have become key factors in the growth of contemporary society triggering socio-political and economical as well as cultural and spatial changes (e.g. the emergence of the space of flows, Castells, 1996).
On one side, new political and environmental challenges inspired by the acceptance of the sustainable development principles have induced governments and public authorities to open up access to environmental information as a means to improve public participation in environmental decision making and awareness. On the other side the growth of ICT is a tool that not only constitutes an industry in its own right but which also pervades all sectors of economy, where it acts as integrating and enabling technologies. ICT have a profound impact on society, and their production and use have important effects on the development of economic, social and environmental areas, promoting new questions discussed by theorists and planners. But the extent of ICT in everyday life and its strong relationship with socio-cultural and economic aspects produce a complex equation which is difficult to understand and solve.
This paper aims to explain some fundamental aspects about ICT, and to offer a framework that will allow: planning a sustainable policy; addressing ICT in a sustainable way; developing an analytical process of understanding environmental information use, and supporting public access, improving awareness and participation processes. This assumption is based on the current trend within public authorities to use ICT as a major delivery medium.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Sustainable Development (SD): According to the WCED, SD is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The essence of this form of development is a stable relationship between human activities and the natural world, which does not diminish the prospects for future generations to enjoy a quality of life at least as good as our own.
Local Policy: A comprehensive view about a territory able to address the strategic choices of a community.
Local Authority/ Local Government: The lowest tier of elected government.
Framework: An instrument providing a general spatial framework for a town or a territory Information and Communications Technology (ICT). We can refer the relationship, through digital technology, between information and communication and how we can storage, analyze, and to spread information. It includes any communication device or application, encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, satellite systems and so on, as well as the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance learning. About the ICT sectors, in 1998, OECD member countries agreed to define the ICT sector as a combination of manufacturing and services industries that capture, transmit and display data and information electronically.
Local Plan: A plan that sets out detailed policies and specific proposals for the development and use of land in a district and guides most day-to-day planning decisions.
Infrastructure: Basic services necessary for development to take place (roads, electricity, water, education, health facilities, communications, etc.).
Land Use: The way land is used or developed.
Spatial Development: Changes in the distribution of activities in space and the linkages between them through the conversion of land and property.
Stakeholder: An institution, organization, or group that has some interest in a particular sector.
Strategic Planning: Preparation of a strategy identifying the broad patterns of growth; it is generally long-term and comprehensive, bringing together social, economic and spatial considerations.