Conservatives and liberals must understand that the world they once knew no longer exists. The resistance of evolving technology, education and infrastructure is fading away as we transition from a 20th century way of thinking into a 22nd century way of thinking. We are no longer secular but universal in our way of solving problems in our communities.
Therefore, urban conservatives must lead the way when it comes to holding urban communities accountable when linking up with the rest of the world. We have to become more in tune with digital technology. For example, developing an urban regional wireless network in areas such as Benton Harbor and Muskegon will deliver affordable broadband wireless services to citizens in all areas of the region. If implemented it will be the largest project of its kind in the world and may transform the urban landscape region by enhancing the lives of community neighborhoods and overcoming the digital divide. Universities such as Western Michigan and Grand Valley State can partner with the urban municipalities to envision how a broadband wireless network can transform the lives and experiences of its citizens and visitors alike. The urban regional wireless network could provide a source of inspiration for novel ideas as well as a living laboratory for examining new applications.
Urban communities in Michigan have become mired in problems like accidents, crime, poverty, traffic and failing education. Despite the advancements in society at large, a significant portion of urban residents have been left behind. The emergence of digital technology in urban communities in Michigan will give us a chance to re-shape the landscape of the urban community. We have the opportunity, as well as responsibility, to design this emerging digital urban environment right, so that it benefits people in all walks of life.
It will require the creation of both a large-scale information infrastructure that will cut through existing physical and social infrastructures in the city and the design of new services and applications. It also requires new media both in form and function that can take advantage of the mobility and the ubiquity of information. By designing new digital urban communities and networks it will help us to re-think the meanings of familiar activities, while at the same time it allows us to envision novel forms of social interactions. Also, it will demand new forms of partnership between public and private sectors, researchers and practice, and the social and technical realms. The digital urban community, then, is a socio-technical innovation space where new forms of digitally mediated social interactions are designed and the meanings of old social interactions are re-shaped and mediated through new technologies.
Like water, gas, and electricity, access to the Internet and other information technologies can no longer be viewed as a privilege, yet it remains out of reach to the disabled, communities of color, new immigrants, non-English speakers, the homeless, and low-income families. The struggle to control broadband technology and the infrastructure that facilitates Internet connectivity is contested by public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Broadband access involves a digital landscape that few city officials are willing to take direct responsibility for.
One group that is connecting large urban areas digitally through wireless networking is the City of Philadelphia. A nonprofit organization called Digital Impact Group is leading the way in the city of Brotherly Love. A long-term vision is for Philadelphia - now among the least connected cities nationwide - to become the nation's most connected city. Our focus on developing programs to connect all of our citizens to the Internet is leading the way toward universal digital inclusion through creative collaboration with small business, large corporations, community organizations and the public sector.
As a result of Philadelphia's bold leadership on this issue, low-wealth families across the city are gaining access to computers and broadband service, enabling them to take advantage of opportunities that before were closed to them. Philadelphia stands alone among major cities in the development of a collaborative, comprehensive, community-based strategy to provide low-wealth families the tools they need to connect to the Internet.
Building research and technology parks in Benton Harbor that will bring in information and digital research companies will bring in much needed revenue as well as a tax base for an area that is desperate for job growth.
Urban conservatives in Flint, Saginaw, Detroit, Lansing, Muskegon and Benton Harbor should lead the way in innovation and digital technology by supporting smart policies that will benefit urban areas in Michigan.