Internet attracts more people into big cities – research

Internet 'attracting more people into big cities' - research
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Despite being able to access data at the drop of a hat or speak face-to-face to people on the other side of the world, the evolution of technological capabilities hasn’t led to an exodus from urban areas.

Researchers have found quite the opposite – that the increased adoption of information and communication technologies (ICT) has resulted in higher population concentrations in cities.

Traditionally, firms in similar fields are known to cluster together to reduce productions costs, a pattern known as economies of agglomeration.

However as digital technologies have improved, their impact has not been to disperse urban populations but instead reinforce them.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, suggest that ICT adoption and the accumulation of businesses in city centers are complementary rather than substitutable.

Dr. Emmanouil Tranos, of Bristol University, and Dr. Yannis Ioannides, of Tufts University in the United States, tested the effect of internet usage and internet speed on the changes over time in rankings of micropolitan and metropolitan areas in the US and of built-up areas in the UK for the study.

Lead author Dr. Tranos said: “Geographers, planners, and urban economists explored the spatial footprint of the internet at its early stages.

“Their theories were conjectural and even fanciful then and included the emergence of telecottages, borderless countries, and even the end of cities.

“Today, 25 years after the commercialization of the internet, we know that those narratives overstated the potential of the internet and other digital communication technologies to supplement face-to-face interactions and diminish the cost of distance. The high and steadily increasing urbanization rates prove otherwise.

“The results instead favour a complementary relation between the internet and agglomeration externalities, meaning the internet and ICTs have not pushed people out of big cities, but rather attracted more people towards them.”

He added: “Although this paper was written before Covid, the results are highly relevant for the current period when internet and digital technologies have supplemented face-to-face interactions.

“The next steps involve assessing the changes that the rapid digitalization, caused by the pandemic, may create to cities and urban systems.”