According to new research, the rise of the Internet and the increasing economic focus on information and communication technologies (ICTs) have led more people to live in cities.
A team from the University of Bristol found that despite the benefits of distance communication that Internet technologies can offer, their increased adoption has led to national urban systems characterized by higher population concentrations.
Traditionally, companies in similar areas have been known to cluster together to reduce production costs, a pattern known as agglomeration economies.
However, as advanced digital technologies have matured significantly, their effect has not been to disperse urban populations, but rather to amplify them.
For their study, the researchers tested the effect of internet use and internet speed on the changes over time in rankings of micropolitan and metropolitan areas in the US, as well as for built-up areas in the UK.
Dr. Emmanouil Tranos, lead author of the paper, said: “Geographers, planners and urban economists have explored the spatial footprint of the Internet at an early stage.
Their theories were presumably and even fanciful at the time and included the rise of telecottages, borderless lands, and even the end of cities.
“Today, 25 years after the commercialization of the Internet, we know that those stories exaggerated the potential of the Internet and other digital communication technologies to complement personal interactions and reduce the cost of distance.
The high and steadily increasing urbanization rates prove the opposite. “The results instead favor a complementary relationship between the Internet and external agglomerations, meaning that the Internet and ICT have not pushed people out of the big cities, but attracted more people to them.”
The researchers hope that these findings will inform urban policy in the future. The ability of the Internet and digital communications to further strengthen agglomeration economies can be used as a tool to support urban growth.
In addition, the indication that such impacts are stronger for smaller and less densely populated urban areas, at least in England and Wales, may be useful to further orient digital strategies in such locations.
Dr. Tranos added, “Although this article was written before Covid, the results are highly relevant to the current era when the Internet and digital technologies have complemented personal interactions.
“The next steps are to assess the changes the rapid digitalization caused by the pandemic could bring about in cities and urban systems.
” While the findings may broadly represent the internet age, major cities such as London are expected to see their population decline for the first time in more than 30 years this year due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.