A Communications Theory of Urban Growth

By Richard L. Meier; Resources for the Future | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
TRANSACTION CAPACITY

Why must almost all major policy makers congregate with their assistants and ancillary help in the some vicinity at the some time? It has been observed that they spend their time there manipulating symbols which are directed at others. My not transmit the symbols over a somewhat greater distance instead of moving people? Isn't this the ultimate solution?

These questions have not yet been investigated satisfactorily because the division of responsibilities among the professions has inhibited total system analysis. The sending of messages can theoretically relieve the transportation bottleneck because messages can be substitutes for trips, and it is evident that this substitution process is already at work as a natural, unplanned trend, just as messages may substitute in part at the margin for scarce natural resources.

One approach to total system analysis including both transportation and communications can presently be taken at the national, rather than metropolitan, level. A similar technique will be applicable in the relatively near future to an urban aggregation. This approach starts by considering all transactions that require the transfer of material, energy, or information from place to place. If an annual slice of these transactions is classified according to the quantity of energy required for completion, a distribution (or spectrum) can be plotted (Fig. 7). At one extreme is a large number of telecommunications, which individually require minuscule amounts of energy to transmit, and at the other is a full shipload, trainload, or pipeline run, each of which requires millions of tonmiles of transport service. Very recently missile launchings hove become the category of transactions requiring greatest energy.

Fig. 7 has an added feature that is of interest. Inferences can be made from annual United States statistical series concerning the growth or decline of the volume of transactions in a given energy-using category. The trends in the 1955-1960 data indicate that telecommunications are growing steadily at perhaps 5% per year or more, while independent (i.e., non-auto) passenger movements are increasing by only 1-2% and truck and rail shipments combined seemed to be growing at most by only 1% per year. Thus at the growing margin greater emphasis is being placed upon the addition of communications capacity than upon heavy transport. The secular trend is shown graphically as a vector superimposed upon the distribution curve.

Social transactions have measurable physical properties other than energy attached to them, particularly distance, time and mass transfer. The present data do not permit presenting the distance spectrum for the total national system. The significance of time span and mass transfer was discovered to be very largely complementary, so two distributions are exhibited in Fig. 8. It shows that very small and very large transactions seem to be growing at the expense of intermediate sizes. The technology now being put to work takes advantage of extreme economies of scale; many messages can be sent over the some channel when it is suitably equipped with modern sending and receiving equipment and many ordinary-sized movements can be amalgamated into a single very large operation for a long-distance haulage.

-60-

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