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How the Digital Revolution Is Shaping the American Landscape

by Joel Kotkin

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50199-1
Publisher: Random House

A lucid if self-evident examination of the impact that cyberspace is having on America’s residential and commercial landscape, from trend-forecaster Kotkin (Tribes, 1993, etc.).

Now that the information industry—from media and entertainment to telecommunications and computers—has become a critical source of wealth, Kotkin explores how it has affected this country’s human geography. By its very mobility, the industry frees both homes and businesses from the tyranny of past requirements to be near ports, roads, rails, or raw materials. “Companies and people now locate not where they must but where they will,” Kotkin concludes reasonably. He goes on to describe some of the new venues: the “Valhallas” (pastoral paradises—such as Boulder, Colorado, and Park City, Utah—plugged into the information economy) and the “nerdistans” (“self-contained high-end suburbs that have grown up to serve the needs of both the burgeoning high-technology industries and their workers”). There’s also a movement to reclaim and enliven select urban cores, although the author foresees much retailing moving to the Internet and the public urban spaces made up of libraries, restaurants, performing-arts centers, schools, and service clubs. Though there will be some boutique retail establishments, most of the fine artisinal products will come from cyberspace: why shouldn’t artisans be as footloose as nerds? Though Kotkin is well aware of the widening gap between haves and have-nots in this picture (and understands how that is expressed along ethnic lines), he has little but windbaggery to offer in his suggestions about how to avoid the siege mentality that’s the inevitable product of gated communities: we must face “these problems with imagination and a sense of commitment,” with a “sense of civic spirit,” to convey a “sense of uniqueness and an investment in its future.”

A sharp diagnosis that offers few prescriptions.