Life at home in the newww.age Electronics and architecture are already joining to qwelcome people home to a new/old kind (( of city.

November 22, 1998|By LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

Look to the city of the future and you're likely to see compact, pedestrian-friendly communities of digital artisans working where they live - in a place that looks a lot more like the villages of the pre-industrial past than it does some mildly modified version of -- postwar suburban-now.

"Electronics and architecture are coming together to make a new type of hybrid setting," says William Mitchell, dean of MIT's school of architecture and planning and author of "City of Bits: Space, Place and the Infobahn."

As surely as networks of canals shaped Venice, and networks of trolleys and then highways shaped cities like Los Angeles, Mitchell says, the new virtual networks of high-speed communication will reshape cities in the future.

It's already happening in businesses such as bookstores, he points out. A traditional bookstore is confined to the bricks and mortar that enclose it, and by its operating hours. A person must physically visit, and then faces relatively limited choices of 5,000 to 50,000 titles.

Online equivalents such as amazon.com aren't bound by those strictures. Customers can shop 24 hours a day, from anywhere in the world, and choose from more than 1 million titles at competitive prices.

But such virtual companies still need a physical place to process orders and handle transactions, creating what Mitchell calls "an electronic front and an architectural back."

With high-speed communications networks headed to ubiquity, Mitchell says, many kinds of home-based businesses will

flourish, changing lifestyles and housing design.

"We will see the reinvention of the pre-industrial home, where the merchant lived above the shop," Mitchell says. "Neighborhoods will be densely intermingled urban space. The post-industrial city will reinvent some of the focus of the pre-industrial."

"New urbanists" say communities that are pedestrian-friendly, with lunch places, dry cleaners, copying centers and other nearby basic services, will flourish with the new digital artisans they will attract.

Already, some developers are beginning to design communities that make such lifestyles possible, says Tom Horan, director of the Claremont Graduate School Research Institute.

In Riverside County, Calif., a planned 6,500-home project called Liberty in Lake Elsinore aims to link all the residences with each other, both in the virtual and real worlds.

The homes - each with the front porches and promenade-minded sidewalks right out of small-town nostalgia - are grouped in "villages" clustered around a small, pedestrian-oriented town center, says Horan, who is co-producing a PBS documentary on such developments.

Each house would be linked by a high-speed fiber-optic phone line that carries voice, data, video and other information, linking the community's residents to each other, community organizations and the Internet beyond.

The Brea Cottages development in nearby Orange County uses the same approach, clustering cozy housing around small yards in a development close to nearby shops and theaters.

"There aren't large lawns for everybody," Horan says. "You increase the density, put porches on the street, alleys in the back for cars. You urban-design to create life on the street."

Both communities repudiate the postwar suburban planning model, which walled neighborhoods off from commercial areas, unwittingly encouraged urban sprawl and physical isolation, while forcing residents to drive everywhere for anything.

"In the traditional commuter cities, there's been a division of function between the bedroom cities and downtown jobs," Mitchell says. That gradually will change as more workers commute by high-speed communications networks instead of highways and rail lines.

A massive and controversial development called Playa Vista just south of Los Angeles also would use technology to create a different living and working space, Horan says.

Plans call for linking housing to the huge communications network that will be installed in the area to support commercial operations such as the DreamWorks SKG movie studio. That will allow digital artisans such as film editors, screenwriters and musicians to work from their homes, swapping data back and forth with employers using high-speed modems - then walk to the beach.

But what remains unclear is whether communications networks and networked communities will tie people together or isolate them.

Though Horan admits that people could also become "wandering electronic nomads unable to deal with each other, ... I think the [heavy use of] electronic media could very well result in more demand for face-to-face contact, not less.

"While the initial concern was that we would all be at home with laptops, the data suggest there will be new and interesting combinations happening," he says.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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