All this migration of social, economic, and political activity to cyberspace will force us to rethink traditional relationships between the civic and the urban. Latin, as Fustel de Coulanges observed in his great work on the ancient city, distinguishes between the terms civitas and urbs. Families or tribes who joined together because theyshared the same religious beliefs, social organization, form of government, and modes of production created civitas -a community that was not necessarily related to any particular place or construction. But when such a unit chose a particular site and founded a city in which to dwell-as Rome was founded on the seven hills-an urban settlement resulted. So urban space became the territory of the civic formation, and civic principles determined the spatial configuration of the city. Choice of site, performance of the foundation ritual, and organization of the layout were seen as such fundamentally important acts that they were traditionally ascribed to the community's gods and mythic heroes.
Today, this ancient idea-reflected in the Oxford definition of a community as a "body of people living in one place, district, or country"-is eroding; a community may now find its place in cyberspace. The new sort of site is not some suitable patch of earth but a computer to which members may connect from wherever they happen to be. The foundation ritual is not one of marking boundaries and making obeisance to the gods, but of allocating disk space and going online. And the new urban design task is not one of configuring buildings, streets, and public spaces to meet the needs and aspirations of the civitas, but one of writing computer code and deploying software objects to create virtual places and electronic interconnections between them. Within these places, social contacts will be made, economic transactions will be carried out, cultural life will unfold, surveillance will be enacted, and power will be exerted.
As these soft cities develop, we will need to consider not only their urban design-the places and interconnections that they provide, and their look and feel-but also their civic character. We will have to figure out how to make cyberspace communities work in just, equitable, and satisfying ways.
So far, there are no definitive answers to the questions that this task poses, but as this windshield survey along the infobahn has shown, there are at least a few emerging models to consider. The commercial online systems have developed, until now, as company towns-centrally controlled enterprises that own the infrastructure and try to make money by renting space to information and service providers, by charging access fees to subscribers, and (like broadcast media) by selling advertising. Some smaller, dial-in systems like the WELL belong to the communitarian, utopian tradition; they have relied on generating a shared commitment to the common good and on informal, barter systems of information exchange. Discussions of a national information infrastructure raise the possibility that the essential infrastructure elements, like streets and sewers, might be constructed and run by government monopolies and paid for with tax dollars. And the Internet demonstrates the possibility of a multilayered, heterogeneous, decentralized system in which the constituent communities organize themselves, run their local affairs, and pay their bills in many different ways.
As communities increasingly find their common ground in cyberspace rather than on terra firma, these models will be debated, extended, and transformed. The fundamental questions of cyberspace's political economy will urgently be contested. Who plays, who pays, and how is this decided? How is trade to be conducted, and how is intellectual property to be managed and protected? What is the role of agents, and what sorts of regulation might these software slaves require? How should communities define their boundaries, and how might they maintain their norms within these boundaries? What are the legitimate forms of power? How might political discourse be constructed?
These are questions worthy of an online Aristotle. If he were around to frequent the electronic Lyceum, you would probably find some pretty lively discussion at alt.Politics.