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Special paper to be published in Science Magazine, by the American Association for Advancement of Science, for the United Nation's Conference on Human Settlements, May - June, 1976
The last two centuries stand out in history as a triumph for science
and technology; but has it been for mankind as well? Have we been 80
involved in our own disciplines that we have overlooked many of the true needs?
At this point in history, speaking for scientists, we face a responsibility
and a challenge which we must not fail to meet. Thus we must now apply at
least a fraction of our diverse talents and our training in systematic
problem-solving towards meeting our major national and social needs.
Through our accomplishments in communications and transportation, we
shrank the world, yet the distance between people has not decreased.
Our major national problems when grouped into three major categories,
result in the urban, rural and energy crises.
At the beginning of the century,
one-third of the population in the United States was urban, and two-thirds was
rural. A gradually mounting migration, totally unplanned, led to the current
population distribution of three-quarters urban (and suburban), and one-quarter
As one consequence, urban centers had to expand rapidly to accommodate
vast numbers of people, yet within finite geographic boundaries, thus creatizz
unprecedented social, economic and environmental problems. Concurrently,
rural areas began to decline and were unable to compete with the real or
imagined attractions of urban living. The third consequence, we believe,
is the accelerated exhaustion of our energy resources. The current urban,
rural and energy crises are closely interlinked, and it is essential to charac
terize each briefly.
If crime is a symptom of social disintegration, then urban areas are in
alarming contrast to rural conditions when for instance, fifteen times more
street robberies per unit population occur in a city of one million than in a
town of ten thousand. In addition, pollution levels, congestion, estrangement,
are all signs of a population saturation with which we are not yet able to cope.
Many people and, indeed, businesses (at least those who could afford
it) have chosen to locate in suburbs in the hope of escaping some of the
urban problems. This has merely expanded the boundaries of urban areas so
that sprawl and overcrowding began to impair the quality of suburban life as
well, while those who remained behind create an almost catastrophic drain
on the city's economic resources.
As the result of the exodus by young people from rural America to build
their future in the metropolitan centers, a gradual degeneration of rural life
accurred. Lack of employment opportunities and human services as well as
some of the cultural and recreational amenities of the large city are factors
impeding a reversal of the unfortunate but understandable migration patteras.
Paralleling this huge totally unplanned population dislocation has been
an uncontrolles use of our energy resources. For instance, the extremely
centralized population distribution depends upon electric power generation,
with low pollutant oil and unable to use our abundant coal supplies.
Regarding needs of oil for transportation, one-third of all the gasoline
used in this nation is for da ily commuting in our large metropolitan centers
to and from work.
The first concerted effort to apply science and technology, and in particular the communications disciplines to national problems, took place in the
(1) National Academy of Engineering's Committee on Telecommunications la 1971. A far reaching conclusion was the proposal to create a special project called the New Rural Society to apply telecommunications technology to ease the plight of the cities by upgrading life in rural communities. This would make possible a voluntary decentralization of people, business and of government, creating the necessary conditions to bring the urban and energy crises under
control as well.
(1) Communications Technology for Urban Improvement,
National Academy of Engineering, June, 1971