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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

February, 1976

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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

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population distribution of three-quarters urban (and suburban), and one-quarter

rural.

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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

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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,

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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

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control as well.

(1) Communications Technology for Urban Improvement,

National Academy of Engineering, June, 1971

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