Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cities as the Nodes of a Network

In response to a number of comments on my posting “The End of Urban Planning? (1)” I would like to focus a bit more on the importance of cities to the global network. In this posting we saw the relevance of cities to the physical network of roads, illustrated by a picture of Brazil by night. In response to the comment of Erik on this post I would like to quote sociologist Manuel Castells:

“… A network has no center, just nodes. Nodes may be of varying relevance for the network. Nodes increase their importance for the network by absorbing more relevant information, and processing it more efficiently. The relative importance of a node does not stem from its specific features but from its ability to contribute to the network’s goals. However, all nodes of a network are necessary for the network’s performance …”

In this perspective there’s a parallel with Erik’s comment. Cities or regions have to have a certain added value to the global network, be it industry (like São Paulo), service (like Bangalore) or an innovative environment (like Silicon Valley). All are a matter of infrastructure, to be defined and provided by policy and the local government.

But what might be even more important to a node’s relevance is not what it contains or can do, but what it connects to.


Erik said...

Dear Maurits,
I think one can look at networks in a conventional way. In this view the connections are links and the nodes represent content. But again it might be more complicated.
The value of a node may be its connections to other nodes. In this situation the node functions as a hub. A good example of course is a city with an airport.
I think a node can have real content. Examples here may be factories, universities or mining operations. But of course these nodes are in fact networks themselves.
All products consist of material and labour. But the material of the product also consists of material and labour. This process goes on, all the way down to the ore dug from a mountain (using labour).
Maybe it is the same with networks. Networks consist of connections and nodes. But the nodes are in fact networks themselves, consisting of connections of nodes. And so on. Maybe there are even interlinks between networks.
When indeed countries and communities are built up in this way, humans may not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend this complexity. They may only think they do. As you say: the end of urban planning.

Maurits said...

Erik, you are right, nodes have to have content, otherwise the network would be hollow, an empty infrastructure, like a ghost city. As you mentioned nodes themselves can be networks as well, so this way networks have fractal behaviour, repeating themselves again and again infinitively in an ever smaller scale. But I don't think it would be to complex for humans to understand. I think it is more a matter of education, a mindset. Please check my new postings on hubs.