The changes resulting from the spread of computer technology generally inspire mutterings about the substitution of virtual for authentic reality. But computer literacy's impact on the vibrancy of city life is proving much more complex to predict than doom-mongers might admit.
An experiment by Tesco, which will transform patterns of food-shopping, is already under way. Customers do a virtual trawl of the supermarket shelves on the Internet, keying barcodes into their trolley. The goods are delivered to their front door within two hours.
The implications are vast - and fast. Recently, architects have been struggling with the aesthetic and moral conundrum of a Soane-inspired Bluewater shopping centre, set in a sea of 10,000 private cars. But it may be that by 2010 such mega-sites will be of interest purely by virtue of their loft-conversion potential. Stores will be needed, but their architectural profile will be determined by density of use, efficiencies of containers, speed of retrieval. Strategically, stores will need nodal transport connections: neglected sites of dereliction next to railways could be transformed, and predictable journey lengths will work well with electrically powered vans.
More than anything, the street looks set to change. Not just the high street, where the supermarket's dead facade will have had its day. But the local street and the estate, where the regular presence of stopping vans will reinstate a humane pace to the road, and the sight of people popping in and out of their front doors to exchange a few words, or to take in goods for their neighbours, may well make these the new places of urban conviviality in the twenty-first century.