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Stories about the lives we've made

module:Urban sustainability

Cities and the role of technology

page:Technological initiatives and economic wealth

Since so many aspects of our lives are dictated by how much money is available, it is interesting to see if there is any obvious relationship between the wealth of a city and its use of technology in all aspects. Globally there are distinct spatial patterns in the use of technology, especially high-tech solutions. This is strongly influenced by the opportunities to use technological innovations, governed by a complex set of social, political and physical factors.

However, the data needed to test this relationship for cities is not easily obtainable. Resources do exist for nation-states via organisations such as the World Bank and United Nations, as the following demonstrates.

Technology and economic wealth

High urban densities in Europe and North America were associated with the rise of industries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This enabled such countries as the United Kingdom and United States and all the present high-income countries to create wealthy economies.

The richer middle-income countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Saudi Arabia urbanised rapidly from the 1960s as a result of major immigration facilitated by the technology of communications and transport (not always matched by industrialisation). The South American cities were also very influenced by the colonial culture of concentration in cities.

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Explaining GNI per capita
    GNI per capita (formerly GNP per capita) is the gross national income, converted to US dollars using the World Bank Atlas method, divided by the mid-year population.
    GNI is the sum of value added by all resident producers plus any product taxes (minus subsidies) not included in the valuation of output plus net receipts of primary income (compensation of employees and property income) from abroad.
    GNI, calculated in national currency, is usually converted to U.S. dollars at official exchange rates for comparisons across economies. However an alternative rate is used when the official exchange rate is judged to diverge by an exceptionally large margin from the rate actually applied in international transactions.
    To smooth fluctuations in prices and exchange rates, a special Atlas method of conversion is used by the World Bank. This applies a conversion factor that averages the exchange rate for a given year and the two preceding years, adjusted for differences in rates of inflation between the country and the G-5 countries (France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States).


Despite rapid urbanisation in the twentieth century, the lowest income countries still have a large proportion of their population working in low tech employment: subsistence agriculture as in Bangladesh and Kenya. The graphs therefore could be said to show a positive correlation between GNI and percentage of urban population.

Open question

What do you think the relationship between wealth and the use of technology is likely to be? How might it be linked with the level of urbanisation in a country? Given that the highest positive percentage changes in urban populations are now taking place in less economically developed countries, how might this relationship be changing?

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Looking at relationships between indicators
Indicators Relationship>
GNI/Personal computers The wealthier the population the more likely it is to be literate, well educated and wish to use computers for work and leisure. Expect a positive correlation.
GNI/High-tech exports More complex pattern: the wealthier a country the more likely it is to be at an advanced economic and industrial phase with highly skilled workforce and technology able to enter the world marketplace for high-tech products. Expect a positive correlation but with some poorer countries having high exports because of the influence of transnational corporations producing high-tech products in those countries (e.g. Indonesia, Mexico)
GNI/CO2 emissions The wealthier a country, the more likely it is to have a manufacturing industry creating CO2 and high consumerism, with cars especially a main effluent source. The higher the GNI the higher the CO2 emissions (see United States and Australia) unless restrictions and legislation put in place to control emission. Here technology is both creating environmental problems and helping to solve them (for example, in France and the United Kingdom). Political decisions stand in the way of a simple reduction of CO2 by means of technological advancements – hence the problem in ratifying the Climate Convention started in Kyoto in the late 1990s (as of May 2004 Russia and the United States – the main polluters – refuse to commit to reductions in CO2 because of fears of the economic cost). Expect a positive correlation overall.


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