Civic Networks: Yugoslav cities


Danijela Milovanovic
Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade
Yugoslavia
danijela@arh.arh.bg.ac.yu

Abstract

At this moment, in Yugoslavia there are certain indications of Civic Networks (CN). This research is dealing with identifying the development stages of CN in the cities of Yugoslavia. This paper will present the results of an analysis of CN according to the content and types of information, city management affairs in which they are used, types of communication they provide, structure and method of presentation, development strategies, target groups they are intended for, way and sources of financing. Different types and different levels of city network development have been recognized. Their difference tells us about the differences among the areas they cover, as well as of different approaches to their position and role in the development.
The selection represents the potential for further development and usage of telematic applications. On the basis of this and similar analyses it would be possible to establish a necessary informational basis intended for defining development strategies of civic networks in Yugoslavia and shape a structure of civic informational network content in terms of its usage in city planning domain.


Content

1. Introduction
2. Objectives and purpose of research
3. Area of research
  3.1. Founders of CNs
  3.2. Development policy and regulations concerning the development and application of urban telematics
4. Structure of research
  4.1. Usefulness - analysis of contents and topics
  4.2. Local government and telecommunications
  4.3. City development and application of telecommunications
  4.3.1. Strategies, programmes, plans and projects on the Internet
  4.3.2. Participation of citizens
  4.4. Communicability: Analysis of the quality and types of communication
  4.4.1. Communicability of a presentation from visual point of view
  4.4.2. Types of communication - from technical point of view
  4.5. City identity - coordination of a digital and physical city
  4.6. Changeability in respect to the city life: Updating and modernization
5. CNs of Yugoslavia
6. Detailed analysis and typology of Yugoslav CNs
7. Conclusion: guidelines and development possibilities



1. Introduction

"The only way to achieve a sustainable future is to envolve the public in the design and decision-making process"[1] . Contemporary advanced informational and communicational technologies (ICT) provide efficient processing and picturesque presentation of information, a direct contact with the public, i.e. perception of a new pattern of life quality management.
Local administrations are faced with considerable pressure, increasing requirements of citizens for better services, lower prices, better transparency and clearness of decision-making process and administrative procedures. Contemporary informational and communicational technologies and telematic applications can be a very efficient instrument in the strategy which local authorities follow in trying to accomplish mentioned expectations and requirements.

One of standard civic services developed as a response to these growing needs is the civic network (CN). "A civic network is a system organized to ensure distribution and collection of local information and provide exchange and interactive communication to the users. CN is
intended for a very specific physical space, namely a city. Basic objectives of CN existance are to provide access to information, democratic participation of citizens and community development"[2] . CNs increase the efficacy of public administration, ensuring a closer relationship with citizens and their involvement in decision-making process, i.e their assistance in creating a more uniform distribution of responsibility.

2. Objectives and purpose of research

The objective of this research is to acknowledge the role and importance of Civic Networsk in the cities of Yugoslavia. City administrations in Yugoslavia have started to recognize the potentials of contemporary Informational and Communicational Technologies (ICT) and their
significance for socio-economical development of a city. The fact has been recognized that production and distribution of information is becoming a competitive factor in regard to production in traditional sense.[3]

In ex-Yugoslav countries at the moment there are signs of emerging civic networks. However, since there are still no institutions dealing with application and development of ICT, nor any regulations in this field, the CNs of Yugoslav cities have emerged spontaneously. We cannot talk about a systemized structure and organized methodological approach.

We can, however, recognize different levels of development, institutional and organizational arrangements, motives of launching, i.e. very different occurring forms of CNs, therefore basic objectives of this research are:

  • to record the number of cities with CN,
  • to define the criteria for recognizing various occurring forms, i.e. indicators for measuring the level of development and quality of CNs,
  • to identify good development examples of telematic strategies and policies
  • to reach conclusions about certain conditions for development of good examples, i.e. to define recommendations for their development.

The research is focused on observing and analysing the contents available on the sites of Yugoslav cities, as well as on interviews with those involved in creation and implementation of telematic policies and technologies.

3. Area of research

Currently, within the territory of Yugoslavia there are about fifty city sites. Territorial distribution of CNs has the following characteristics:

  • the highest concentration of CNs is noted around big cities, i.e. within economically most developed areas;
  • the highest CN density is in the northern part of the country (the province of Voivodina, Belgrade included);
  • the highest number of official CNs is in the northern part of the country (the province of Voivodina, Belgrade inlcuded).

Figure 1 - Territorial distribution of civic networks in Yugoslavia


3.1. Founders of CNs

Concerning the issue of CN creation and maintenance, as well as usage of electronic communication in the processes and affairs of city development management here, we can talk about partial initiatives of certain planning agencies, certain local communities, efforst of some private companies dealing with creation and sales of the tools in this field.

A survey has shown that only about 30% of the sites have been initiated by local managments, i.e. that all others have occurred under the initiative of and by certain provider agencies, various informatics associations or independent individuals. This means that majority of CNs have not been initiated as a support to local community government nor in order to improve the quality of life or services. The reasons are huge and inert administrative systems of city governments, as well as the lack of funds for infrastructure and organizational changes. On the other hand, private sector, being more adaptable and efficient, has managed to acknowledge economical potentials of CNs and uses them as promotional means for those aspects of a city that are of their individual (groups of individual) interests.

3.2. Development policy and regulations concerning the development and application of urban telematics

Benefits and advantages of using ICT, especially the Internet, for the development of a city are enormous. Quality of regulations, i.e. the "comfort" of legislation covering the usage of the Internet, makes a city or a state attractive for investors interested in investing in ICT.
A rapid increase of using the internet has been recorded in Yugoslavia lately, so that it is becoming necessary to introduce some legal measures in order to ensure organized and undisturbed development and application of ICT. Usage of the Internet, availability of the Internet contents, structures and contents of CNs, as well as the policy of providing access to wider population, are the issues not yet solved in Yugoslavia. Also no measures have been taken to motivate responsible usage through education of wider population.

4. Structure of research

This is an empirical research of CNs in Yugoslav cities to be conducted on two levels. On the first level, all civic networks shall be analyised in order to determine the topics and services most frequently present. On the next level only a certain number of local government web sites shall be analysed in more details, since this research deals mostly with the ICT applicability in the work of local governments. The fact that CNs are considered an important communicational tool supporting the management of local community development makes the city government one of the most important parts in the process of ICT implementation aiming at better city development. This detailed analysis shall be done with two aspects: content and visual characteristics of the presentations.

This paper will present the results of civic network analyses in regard to:

1. Usefulness and applicability of the site: Analysis of topics included;
2. Role of the city government in ICT application: City government and telecommunications;
3. Application of ICT in the city affairs: Strategies, programmes, plans, CN projects; Participation of the citizens; Public relations; Involved actors;
4. Communicability: Analysis of the quality and types of communication from visual, consumer's and technical points of view;
5. Coordination of digital and physical city: Identity of a virtual city;
6. Changeability in respect to the city life: Updating and modernization.

Different types and different development levels of CNs have been noted. The differences among them speak about different environments that they cover, as well as about different views on their position and role in the development.

4.1. Usefulness - analysis of contents and topics

Benefits that urban telematics can bring to cities and regions through CNs are recognized in the following areas:[4]

  • Regional cooperation: interlinkage of civic, regional and national networks:
  • Inclusion of citizens in the political life;
  • Telematics as means of social integration;
  • Providing access and participation to handicapped citizens;
  • Public administration: interlink among administrative departments aiming at the support and improvement of data exchange between administration and citizens; this ensures higher efficacy and speed and lower cost of exchange;
  • Employment: information on the employment possibilities as a support to the unemployed and reduction of unemployment;
  • Online access to multimedial information about culture, entertainment and tourism at local, regional and national levels;
  • Environmental issues: informativeness, monitoring and environment management;
  • Network of schools and colleges;
  • Library services;
  • Distance learning - educational systems available to all citizens;
  • Health protection: links among all partners in the health protection system;
  • Transportation: improved usage of transportation network;
  • Telework: new flexible forms of working place conception;
  • Electronic tenders: ensures the openess between administration and bids.

Analysis of YU CNs shall re-examine the presence, number and development of above topics.

4.2 Local government and telecommunications

Local governments attach more and more importance to the development and creation of informational infrastructure as a support to the community in order to improve social and economical development. Nowadays, entire successfulness of the cities can be measured by
fineness and diffusion of the usage of telecommunications and informational products and services. Some of the basic conditions for procedure democratization are access to information and transparency of all affairs connected to public interest and community benefits.

4.3 City development and application of telecommunications

Thanks to the ICT application, i.e. the Internet and telematics, the biggest portion of economic activities can be removed and placed anywhere. It presents a totally new environment for local governments. CNs, i.e. local government sites, make it possible to promote economic activities and potentials for their alocation.

4.3.1 Strategies, programmes, plans and projects on the Internet

Plans on the Internet are only one of the means for better planning and efficient realization of city planning projects, and only one of telematic services on CNs. Providing access to such data basis to all those interested in spacial construction enusres much better information on
conditions and possibilities of the market. This not only improves competition but provides better selection as well.

Under the circumstances of rapid development and wide usage of contemporary means of communication providing access to the plans via the Internet, it is possible to react faster, to have better control over the public in the field of land transactions, to be better informed, i.e. to contribute to democratization of city development management.

Applied ICT contributes to better planning, more efficient and effective process of preparation, realization and supervision of the plans, their monitoring, promotion and placement, i.e. better communication among all participants.

4.3.2 Participation of citizens

Prevailing urban topics of our time are participation and inclusion of the public in the process of plan preparation and decision making. Interest and possibilities of a community may be provoked by using new communicational technologies. An intensive effort is made to enable
interaction between those dealing with plan preparation and individuals or groups of interested citizens, with the main principle being that the planner himself is not the only one who creates but that he should do that in cooperation with interested citizens.

A city should provide information to a big number of market segments. Also, political and social aspect should be presented on each government site for various types of users. In regard to target groups of people for whom a site is intended, there are two kinds of information:

  • Local population: it foucuses on the city corporation, local government and local services, etc.;
  • World/global: culture, tourism, lifestyle, business, etc.


4.4 Communicability: Analysis of the quality and types of communication

Modern ICT provides new forms of communication in qualitative sense. These new communications are characterized with the following qualities and advantages: intensivity, illustrativeness and accessibility[5] . Virtual information can easily be recognized and easily responded to. CNs must make use of all advantages of new technologies in order to ensure better cooperation among interested participants.

4.4.1 Communicability of a presentation from visual point of view

In virtual world, communication by symbols is a counterpart to the role of urban design in the life of a real city. The means are graphics and informational design. "Virtual world should not be seen as an alternative to the real world or its substitute, but an extra dimension which allows us new freedom of movement in the natural world".[6]
Besides the content analysis, it is extremely important to pay attention to the quality of visual communication itself. Hence, we recognize basic CN types with:
1. Dominant text;
2. Dominant graphic presentations and illustrations;
3. Combination of text and illustrations.[7]

The site itself must be user friendly, but also of such appearance to attract and motivate people to use that web site.

4.4.2 Types of communication - from technical point of view

Irrespective of motives and content of communication, we can recognize three forms of communication attainable via network:

1. Access to information;
2. Cooperation;
3. Interactive communication.

The following electronic services can be identified as available to CNs so that they can realize above types of communication: online access to data bases, e-mail, newsgroups, File Transfer Protocol, Chat, billboards, electronic payment, electronic polls, worksheets and documents, electronic verification and execution and video servis.

Progressive expansion assumes better usage of multimedia (multimedial mail, high-speed file transfer and video services, inlcuding video-on-demand) and new services such as automatic translation, speech recognition, and graphical user interfaces.[8]

4.5 City identity - coordination of a digital and physical city

A web site is new environment of a city. It certainly is not only a new way of communication between a city government and its citizens or wider community. It is a symbolic presentation of a city. That is why a symbiosis of a city and its virtual presentation must be achieved.[9] It is reflected in "moving" the specificities of a real city to its presentation. Usage of telematics must not eliminate local specificities. It is necessary to coordinate the image and identity of the city presented on the web with those of the real city.[10]

4.6 Changeability in respect to the city life: Updating and modernization

It is necessary to continuously monitor the needs of the community and changes in the city life in order to respond to them as adequately as possible. A city presentation has to be made in accordance with these needs and changes and it has to present the city life in as short periods
of time as possible. Also, city networks have to be updated regularly with the inclusion of technological improvements as a must.

5. CNs of Yugoslavia

WWWs of Yugoslav cities have been analyzed in regard to the content categories they cover. Table 1 shows this coverage in percentage.

Table 1. Content categories and their percentages on the contents of the Yu Civic Networks council sites.

Despite the fact that the site content changed during the research so that some of the findings are not valid any more and despite the fact that the cities differ in size and other characteristics, we still consider the results relevant. Generally they do show the character of the sites and the most dominant topics:

1. The most frequent topics are culture, news, city life, sport, history and tourism.
2. Those following include local information, leisure, promotions of political structures and advertisments of economic activities in a given city.
3. All other topics are equally present/not present
4. The fact of great relevance for this research is that the topics concerning city development planning, environmental issues and citizen participation are insufficiently covered.

6. Detailed analysis and typology of Yugoslav CNs

Analysis of official CNs reveals four types of WWW presentations. Typology has been done on the basis of site structure complexity, i.e. its usefulnees and types of communication it provides (see Figure 2). Hence there are:

  • Developed civic networks. Characteristics: two-way and complex communication: (1) cooperation and (2) interaction; developed supply of information.
  • Civic networks. Characteristics: one-way communications - simple access to information and modest possibility of interaction; developed supply of information.
  • Civic presentations. Characteristics: basic information - a simple review referring to the classic system of obtaining information; basic supply with simple information.
  • Civic picture postcards.

Figure 2. Typology has been done based on site structure complexity, i.e. its usefulness and types of communication it provides.


Table 2. Best cases of official CNs recognised in Yugoslavia.

Although the cities vary in size and development level, we believe that the selection represents potentials for further development and usage of telematic applications.

Selecting the representative cities we tried to present best cases of official CNs recognised in Yugoslavia. Each of the selected 4 case studies represents a different approach to management, design, development and usage of telematic applications, i.e. to understanding of the role of CNs in city development.

7. Conclusion, guidelines, development possibilities

The Civic Nets expansion in Yugoslavia could be detected and traced since the mid 90's, and there is an increasing demand for its further development. However, many shortcomings are evident as well: (1) the national strategy related to it is rather weak and underdeveloped; (2) the economy in the country is rather vague and vulnerable; for the time being, other issues are prioritized; (3) the technical infrastructure needed to provide the support and assistance is not evenly nor adequately developed; it is mostly concentrated in a more developed central and northern part of the country; (4) the majority of population do not have an access to computers/the Internet, nor are likely to have it in a near future; (5) the computer "literacy", on average, is rather low; the affluent, young and middle aged urban professionals or students are the predominant groups of users, while the others are insignificantly presented.[11]

An analysis of good examples of the cities with quality CNs, as well as the study of EU programmes and project, makes it possible to define the following recommendations and guidelines for further development of YU CNs:

  • Civic networks have to be institutionalized;
  • A significant mass of users has to be provided with the help of public network terminals for those citizens who do not have their own PCs;
  • Network groups of information have to be updated on a daily basis;
  • Permanent electronic monitoring has to be provided offering information not only about the number of "visitors" to certain presentations, but also about their interests, sex, education, age;
  • Increase efficacy, improve the quality of services and achieve better relationship with the citizens;
  • Provide political support, especially from the mayor;
  • Ensure public-private partnership and economic justification;
  • Ensure better ties between those dealing with the development of telematics and key people having influence over the changes in major administrative departments;
  • Clarify responsibilities and provide transparency of the processes;
  • Include people of different cultures and skills into the process of creating CNs;
  • Ensure financial support of different institutions.[12]

A tool or a very powerful means of influence on city development, telematics should be treated together with all other issues connected to the functioning of a city and the quality of life in it: infrastructure systems, habitation, schools, parks, etc. In making plans, besides all other necessary topics, attention should be paid to furnishing space with telecommunicational
infrastructure.

A site structure requires an interdisciplinary and multifunctional view that includes the government (mayor, counselors, etc.), city companies (agencies, public services, …), graphic designers, marketing companies, community representatives, etc.

An official web site is highly important for a local community. Recognition of the importance of this new tool by local community and citizens depends on the quality of the site structure itself, ease of understanding, but also on the knowledge of the citizens themselves and their capability to use new and unknown technologies.

 

Footnotes:

1 Guy Battle and Christopher McCarthy: Interactive Ubranism, AD Vol64 No 11/12 1994
2 Beamish Anne (1995): "Communities On-line: A Study of Community-based Computer Networks", Master Thesis, Dpt. of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
3 Carl Strack: Managing cities with the help of telecommunications www.kpnqwest.at/give/gv95/straclec.htm

4 Sistematization of possible application areas, content structure and visual characteristics of CNs has been formed on the basis of the analysis of EU programmes and projects dealing with telematic application research (Digital Cities, ), but also on the basis of observing individual best case practices especially those of Singapore, Bologna and Osaka. The objective is to define a good CN model and then to evaluate YU CNs according to that model.

5 McMillan, K.: "Virtual Reality: Architecture and the Broader Community". School of Architecture, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, 1994

6 Frazer, 1994
7 Abdalla, Jose Gustavo and Cooper, Rachel: A Complex Organization on the Cyber Space: A Study of Image and Identity

Communication of Official-City Web Sites www.onlineplanning.org
8 Implementation of information society applications and proposal for guidelines for Trans-European telecommunications networks. Data Source Provider: European Commission, Service du Porte-Parole. Document Reference: Based on Commission Press Release IP/95/527 of 31.5.1995
9 Footnote No 7
10 Footnote No 3

11 Bajic Brkovic M., Milovanovic D.: Civic Networks: Yugoslav Cities, on-line magasin Adriatico www.italcult.org.ny , 2000
12 Improving employment, democracy and social inclusion through telematics solutions. Data Source Provider: European Digital Cities Coordination Office. Document Reference: TeleCities seminar: Event announcement.