Spread Technology, Strengthen Networks

According to futurologist theory, major cities will soon cease growth as technology improves the quality of life and space regulation is improved. This, according to University of Southern California communication professor Manuel Castells, is not only wrong, but it is also contrary to his prediction that cities will soon expand into large metropolitan regions that will connect in many different ways. Castells visited UC Irvine’s University Club on Thursday, Jan. 24 to talk about the evolution of cities and the concept of ‘urban’ today.
Castells holds joint appointments with sociology, international relation, and policy, planning and development at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. He is one of the world’s most highly cited social science and communications scholars in the world. At the behest of the Department of Planning, Policy and Design, Castells gave a presentation on what he believes is the natural progression of the urban world.
According to Castells, the world is becoming a network society, where different networks of interests criss-cross the globe. Studying individual societies is pointless because of the interconnections between nations. These networks meet in giant metropolitan nodes, typically surrounding major cities. They connect the various populations of the world, but there are some who are disconnected and isolated. Those regions not advanced enough to participate or involve themselves in these networks are cut off from the global society of networks. The regions that are cut off are usually too poor or technologically behind to keep up.
‘We have shifted from exploitation to something much worse: irrelevance,’ Castells said. ‘At least exploited people can fight. The irrelevant are ignored.’
Castells detailed the network society and why developing these networks is so important. As communication technologies improve, spatial distances become less important and metropolitan areas expand from their home city. Entire regions connected by networks become what Castells terms metropolitan regions, which are also known as megacities or megapolitan areas. Several major urban centers are interconnected with residential areas in between them. The closest example would be from Santa Barbara and Ventura County all the way to Tijuana: several cities around the hub city of Los Angeles with residential suburbs in between.
So how do these metropolitan cities emerge?
‘The atlas of networks created cities rather than the other way around,’ Castells explained. Networks congregate in a certain area and the congregation creates jobs. People migrate to the mega-cities because of the employment opportunities. The abundance of jobs means increased immigration, and immigrants become a source of innovation.
Several graduate candidates were present at the lecture. Karen Robinson and Laurie Neighbors, graduate candidates for the School of Sociology, had read Castells’s book and came to the lecture to learn more. ‘He elaborated on some of the more complex stuff in the book,’ Robinson said. ‘It was good to hear [him] in person.’
‘It was a privilege to hear him,’ Neighbors agreed.
Carolina Sarmiento, a Ph.D. candidate for the Department of Planning, Policy and Design, appreciated the experience Castells brought to the lecture.
‘In academia, we are very limited to American theorists. It was nice to have an experienced, global person to broaden our horizons,’ Sarmiento said.
Erualdo Gonzalez, an assistant professor in the Chicana/Chicano Studies department at Cal State Fullerton, also attended the lecture. Gonzalez is an alumnus of UCI’s graduate program and has a Ph.D. from the Department of Planning, Policy and Design.
‘[Castells] makes you think about public policy in unconventional ways. He brings innovation into thinking about how cities connect to the global society and vice versa,’ Gonzalez said.
Castells was invited by Dave Feldman, chair of the Department of Planning, Policy and Design in the School of Social Ecology, to be the keystone speaker in the department’s seminar series.
‘Castells makes us think of the social and political implications of arrangement. He makes us think more broadly of space and groups of people. These groups create forms of community that go beyond the nation or state,’ Feldman said. ‘We have a lot of seminars, and if there’s one theme in common, it is that we try to get scholars on the leading edge of their fields who are very multidisciplinary.’
Castells is the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communication, Technology and Society in the Annenberg School of Communication and is a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, where he was a professor from 1979 to 2003. He has garnered numerous awards, from the Kevin Lynch Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the Medal of Urbanism from the City of Madrid. He has authored 19 books, and his trilogy ‘The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture’ has been translated into 23 languages and used as a textbook in the planning, policy and design graduate program.