Historically, humanity has been changing its primary forms of residence in accordance with society’s needs. From deep caves protecting people from predators and forces of nature to immense agglomerations – these patterns have been determined by development, as well as external factors. At first, humans lived in small groups, the size of which was conditioned by its defensive capacity. Next, as interpersonal relationships grew in importance, people established larger settlements, the nature of which has constantly been changing across eras. By the 20th century, as large-scale industrial production became effective, the idea of urbanization appeared, leading to the further growth of the world’s leading cities. At that point, patterns of urbanization have already been affected by global industrial development.
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A similar tendency is observed today, although the urbanization of the 21st century is largely enabled by advanced technology, which redefines the existing concepts while introducing new ones. Smart cities have become an integral element of the contemporary urbanization discourse, having several important facets. The purpose of this paper is to review urbanization in the contemporary conditions enabled by technological development.
Review of Literature and Discussion of Key Concepts
The concept of urbanization, as well as related tendencies, has been an area of intense interest for researchers across the globe. As such, the term itself is not a recent one, as the history of the world has seen several instances of deliberate urbanization studies since the 19th century. As the present paper aims to analyze the concept in all its complex and evolving nature, a comprehensive review of literature is required. This way, it is possible to examine and analyze the existing body of knowledge, synthesizing the findings in accordance with the current state of the phenomenon. Therefore, an array of fifteen relevant sources has been selected in the light of several criteria.
As the paper’s objective is related to the current circumstances and patterns of urbanization, it was decided to focus on the most recent articles published within the past five years. In addition, while the study aims to incorporate the international perspective, all sources were expected to be published in English to ensure their availability to the general expert community. All of the sources have been placed in three major categories, reflecting the synthesized theme of each one.
Urbanization and Its History
In order to provide a comprehensive examination of the matter at hand, it is important to understand the key concepts, which lie at their foundation. As such, the idea of urbanization is the cornerstone of the research and the most significant phenomenon in this regard. Boustan et al. (2018) trace the history of urbanization in developed countries to the first half of the 20th century. It was at that point that planning and development of cities became considerate and based on specific patterns. Furthermore, urbanists focused on organizing a city’s space in accordance with expert findings, reflecting the needs of the population.
At the same time, Clark (2020) adds that the first attempts at proper urbanization in Europe could have been observed prior to the 20th century. Baron Haussmann’s Paris is one of the most vivid examples of such a reorganization. However, urbanization was not systemic at the time, meaning that there were only individual, often large-scale and controversial, projects (Clark, 2020). Accordingly, urbanization as a developed discipline only acquired its position in the 20th century.
From that point, urbanization became a prominent concept, which has been receiving increased attention in the late 20th-early 21st centuries. The city population has seen a stable increase, which inevitably led to higher density and cost of living in urban areas (Rahayu and Mardiansjah, 2018). As a result, consequent studies were required to seek new ways of city organization, which would make them better suited to accommodate the ever-increasing population (Boustan et al., 2018). Modern challenges require urban planning to remain optimal in terms of infrastructure capacity, but it should also be convenient for residents (Kumar, 2017).
The primary objective of 21st-century city design is to maintain the right balance between comfort and capacity, economic and personal. As the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, the urban environment per se becomes the reflection of humanity, including its rapid technological progress.
Factors of Urbanization and Technological Development
Overall, the importance of urbanization in modern society has ensured its status as a complex, multifaceted discipline. One of the primary areas of related research comprises the factors, which enable and determine the direction of urbanization in the current environment. In fact, the 21st century has become a nearly perfect period for urban planning studies, as it is possible to observe data from a variety of nations, each being of a different level of development.
As such, Li and Wang (2016) provide an overview of the Chinese path to urbanization since the 1970s. In this country, macroeconomic policies, technological progress, and city planning became interrelated. As the government took effective economic reforms in the late 20th century, China saw a rapid increase in high-tech products and services. These advancements became gradually implemented in large cities, which attracted more residents from other areas. As a result, the three elements synergized since economic policy enabled technological progress, which attracted residents who, in turn, posed new economic and technological requirements. As a result, quality urbanization was conditioned by this continuous circle of development.
While China is a prominent example of rapid, high-tech urbanization in the contemporary world, global society has other examples, as well. Tripathi (2020) has analyzed this phenomenon in the light of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). As it was inferred, macroeconomic factors remain one of the key enablers of worldwide urbanization. The range of these factors is broad, comprising direct foreign investment, import-export balance, and inflation.
Simultaneously, modern economies increasingly rely on advanced technology, adding another source of progress’s indirect influence on urbanization. Based on the technological principles, Rossi and Di Bella (2017) divide the world’s cities into two major categories. Developed agglomerations, such as New York or London, are seen as “model high-tech cities,” which demonstrate a substantial degree of technology-conditioned planning. At the same time, there is an array of cities from emerging economies, which have not yet reached similar levels of development. According to Rossi and Di Bella (2017), such “start-up” cities still retain the emphasis on technological solutions in urban planning. Therefore, the active role of technology is not limited to either type of nation and particular city.
The technological side of urbanization is explained by its practical orientation in today’s landscape. High-tech advancements have become integral elements of people’s lives instead of theoretical concepts. The technology is applied in practice, and humans are able to observe the implications of its development in person. Accordingly, high-tech solutions in the context of urbanization are expected to address acute issues related to this phenomenon.
For example, while urbanization has yielded substantial benefits for society, it has also had a serious environmental impact (Munir & Ameer, 2018). Therefore, further planning is to consider this effect and implement new, advanced solutions aimed at preserving the environment. Returning to the case of China, Wang et al. (2018) view urbanization and technology as two inseparable notions, which have directly influenced the nation’s economic success in the past decades. Cutting-edge solutions implemented at all levels ensure the comfort of residents, providing them with an incentive to relocate to urban areas and apply their skills with maximum productivity. Consequently, all parties see benefits, as the local economy sees an increase in content, motivated workers.
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Furthermore, today’s technological development has acquired an unprecedentedly high pace, as new advancements are regularly introduced in an array of spheres. In the 21st century, once urbanization experts realized the immense potential of technology, the concept of a Smart City (SC) emerged. This notion is complex and multifaceted, and, in its general understanding, it represents an urban area, which utilizes the opportunities on the Internet and modern technological solutions in favor of its sustainable development. According to Camero and Alba (2019), while there is a lack of consensus regarding the exact definition of an SC, most views are based on the leading role of information technology.
On the other hand, the Smart City concept is not officially recognized by key international organizations, such as the United Nations. As such, it is often deemed a marketing construct erected by large brands willing to promote their sales (Allam & Newman, 2018). Nevertheless, despite the controversy, the SC phenomenon is real, and it gains momentum, and science and IT are further developed.
As described earlier, Smart Cities and their residents rely heavily on the use of technology, which is expected to facilitate an array of mundane objectives. Kim et al. (2017) refer to such a system as the Internet of Things (IoT). The primary idea of this concept revolves around sensors and databases, which are interconnected via the Internet. This information exchange enables advanced recognition, control, asset management, and communication (Kim et al., 2017).
The IoT incorporates state-of-the-art technological findings into the everyday urban environment, allowing most residents to benefit from recent scientific research. The nexus between the IoT and the SC symbolizes the practical orientation of modern technology, its better applicability. New advancements are longer exclusive to the Army, closed laboratory facilities, or corporate giants. On the contrary, the Internet of Things is the Internet of the People, allowing urban residents to feel the benefits of the large Smart-City framework.
From a practical standpoint, the idea of an SC is prevalent in developed countries, especially in Europe. Caragliu and Del Bo (2019) state that European SC initiatives have seen a significant increase in funding, which entailed a rapid growth of new projects. This tendency is viewed as mostly positive because sufficient budgets attract major players who sometimes develop groundbreaking initiatives. As the urban population continues to increase, so does the funding for Smart City projects. The world’s leading companies and governments have engaged in this race of comfort, convenience, and modernity.
Technological Development and Contemporary Cities
The findings presented above synthesize the contemporary views of urbanization, technological development, and Smart Cities. In fact, “Smart” is the key notion in this regard because of the duality of its meaning. From one perspective, it represents the digital nature of modern urbanization. The Internet is no longer a recent invention or an unusual means of entertainment and pastime. On the contrary, access to the Web has become an indispensable component of modern life.
It presents so many opportunities that the Internet can even be called an integral human right of the 21st century. As it has acquired a vital status in professional and academic activities, experts look to expand the web-based framework to encompass all the various spheres of a person’s life. Smart Cities seek to facilitate transportation, communication, shopping, tourism, and banking through the profound implementation of modern technology. The exact nature of such innovations varies depending on the location and its requirements. This paper examines three prominent examples of the technological solution in contemporary cities.
Kenya is a developing country in Africa, which actively seeks new opportunities to increase the quality of its residents’ lives. Among other issues, the 21st century in Kenya has been characterized by alarmingly low levels of common financial literacy of the citizens. M-Pesa, literally translated from Swahili as “mobile money,” aims to provide Kenyans with access to financial operations from any part of the country. The electronic wallet can be used with a regular Internet-connected smartphone to execute an array of financial operations with personal funds, including withdrawal, transfer, and electronic payment (Onsongo, 2019).
While the concept of the application is not unusual for an average resident of a developed country, it has become a revolutionary invention for Kenya. In fact, many citizens remain unfamiliar with electronics and even cautious about them. The initiative’s goal is to provide Kenyans with a reliable payment instrument, which can be safely used anywhere, but additional effort is required to overcome the rooted concerns about e-payments.
Vienna: Smart City
In the case of Europe, modern technology is embedded in the residents’ lives on a more profound level. Vienna, the capital of Austria, is one of the cities, which have developed a considerable number of high-tech initiatives under the label of a Smart City (Fernandez-Anez et al., 2017). Figure 1 introduces the conceptual framework of an SC, as well as its practical reflection in the case of Vienna. This example demonstrates how the focus of SC’s has shifted from specific sectors to general strategic policies, which define the engagement and experience of all stakeholders. Vienna’s model of the Smart City is comprehensive and unified, and the initiatives are expected to be proposed along the same lines (Fernandez-Anez et al., 2017). This way, the innovations will resemble an entire ecosystem instead of a set of technologically advanced projects. The unity is important, as it allows residents to avoid contrasts and benefit from the seamless, technologically-advanced experience.
New York: Heart of Urban Technology
New York is another prominent example of modern high-tech urbanization, which is worth discussing. Zukin (2020) reviews this city as the front line of global innovation and a place where new breakthrough initiatives are developed. Projects from both private and governmental sectors are actively tested in New York, causing a mixed response from the population. From the corporate side, companies like Uber and Airbnb change the rules of their industries, providing customers with unparalleled levels of comfort and convenience. At the same time, they are considered disrupting innovations, which interfere with well-established rules of the market and even cause legislative dilemmas.
Simultaneously, the government of the United States is eager to apply new technological advancements in such a well-developed, densely populated area. Surveillance equipment, facial recognition software, and other systems, which are said to ensure the safety of the communities, face active resistance from some social groups. Accordingly, the progress and Smart Cities are not inherently positive, and the public may oppose some of the advanced initiatives.
Ultimately, urbanization is a well-established concept, which has been present in society for the past century. While there had been attempts at deliberate city planning before that, they lacked the scale, complexity, and evidence base of the modern discipline. Urbanization never exists in isolation, as it is closely connected to the external factors, which define it. In fact, it is consistent with the vector of society’s development. Today, as the word is characterized by rapid technological progress, the same can be said about the urbanization patterns. Governments and corporate leaders seek to build Smart Cities, which will utilize the full capacity of information technology. However, the presented case studies show that the degree of technological influence and its reception may vary depending on the context.
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