In a piece called Metropolis, published in the Microsoft Architecture Journal, Microsoft guru Pat Helland has written about the relationship between service-oriented networks and cities
Helland's article makes the following argument.
1 Progress requires standardization. (According to Helland, people didn't even wash properly until they had standard clothing.)
2 Standardization is associated with commoditization.
3 Standardization requires concentration of power (and if this involves pathological distortions of socioeconomic relations, such as WalMart or dare we say it Microsoft, so be it).
4 Infrastructure requires central investment. (Since we may regard infrastructure as an act of local standardization, it follows that it must involve concentration of power.)
5 Central investment preserves the "sacred".
I was however surprised that he does not mention the work of Christopher Alexander - especially his 1987 book A New Theory of Urban Design. Given the influence that Alexander's earlier books on structure and patterns have had on the software engineering community, it is amazing how few people in this community have read his later work.
The analogy between computer networks and cities has also been explored by the mathematician Nikos A. Salingaros. See especially his piece on the Information Architecture of Cities. Further comments by Phil Jones.
For more commentary on Helland's piece see the Newswire on Service-Based Design by my colleague David Sprott (CBDI Forum).
See also Peter Lindberg's blog.
Update: Following this post, Philip Boxer and I wrote two articles for the Microsoft Architecture Journal.
Metropolis and SOA Governance: Towards the Agile Metropolis (Architecture Journal 5, July 2005)
Taking Governance to the Edge (Architecture Journal 6, August 2006)