Posts Tagged ‘Jane Jacobs’

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Mon Apr 5th 2010 at 9:11am UTC

Getting Jane Jacobs Right

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Many urban types like to portray Jane Jacobs as opposing just about any kind of new development or change in the structure and historic character of neighborhoods. But that’s not accurate according to Roberta Brandes Gratz’s new book, The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Reviewing the book in Metropolis, George Beane notes:

And yet, as Gratz sees it, Jacobs’s message is today widely misinterpreted as favoring an anti-growth and anti-change agenda; if they could, her critics say, preservationists would embalm the city.  But Gratz argues that Jacobs’s ideas were never meant as narrow prescriptions of architectural type, or to impede new development unconditionally.  She suggests that Jacobs’s teachings are less specific design formulas than general guidelines.  They encourage the development of preexisting communities and industries, mixed uses, complexity, mutually reliant businesses, and, above all, a respect for social and historical context.


Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Mon Sep 28th 2009 at 8:56am UTC

ComplexCity – How Cities Are Like the Human Brain

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Jane Jacobs long ago showed us that cities are complex adaptive systems. Now new research by cognitive scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute finds that not only are cities organized along the same complex principles as the human brain, but evolve in ways that mirror the brain’s evolution.

“Natural selection has passively guided the evolution of mammalian brains throughout time, just as politicians and entrepreneurs have indirectly shaped the organization of cities large and small,” said Mark Changizi, a neurobiology expert and assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer, who led the study. “It seems both of these invisible hands have arrived at a similar conclusion: brains and cities, as they grow larger, have to be similarly densely interconnected to function optimally.” … “When scaling up in size and function, both cities and brains seem to follow similar empirical laws,” Changizi said. “They have to efficiently maintain a fixed level of connectedness, independent of the physical size of the brain or city, in order to work properly.”

Science Daily provides a fuller summary (via Planetizen). The full paper can be downloaded from Changizi’s website.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Jul 5th 2009 at 1:09pm UTC

Density Matters

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Jane Jacobs and Robert Lucas long ago argued that the clustering and density of talented people is a key driver of innovation and economic growth. A new study, “Productivity and the Density of Human Capital,” by Jaison Abel of the NY Fed, Ishita Dey of the University at Buffalo, and Todd M. Gabe of the University of Maine, provides clear evidence of density’s effects on regional economic output (pointer from Kevin Stolarick).

We estimate a model of urban productivity in which the agglomeration effect of density is enhanced by a metropolitan area’s stock of human capital. Using new measures of output per worker for U.S. metropolitan areas along with two measures of density that account for different aspects of the spatial distribution of population, we find that a doubling of density increases productivity by 10 to 20 percent. Consistent with theories of learning and knowledge spillovers in cities, we demonstrate that the elasticity of average labor productivity with respect to density increases with human capital. Metropolitan areas with a human capital stock that is one standard deviation below the mean level realize around half of the average productivity gain, while doubling density in metropolitan areas with a human capital stock that is one standard deviation above the mean level yields productivity benefits that are about 1.5 times larger than average.

To download the study click here.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Jul 5th 2009 at 10:45am UTC

You Get What You Pay For

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Even with the bursting of the housing bubble, it still costs a whole lot more to live in some places than others. New York City, Washington, D.C., L.A., and San Francisco, for example, remain much more expensive than most other U.S. cities and regions. But why?

There’s the old real estate adage: location, location, location – people pay more to be in more central and better places. But that still begs the question of what makes certain places better?

The clustering of people and firms in cities, as Jane Jacobs and Robert Lucas famously have written, surely plays a role. And successful cities seem to speed up productivity and innovation benefiting from faster rates of urban metabolism: New Yorkers, it’s often said, talk faster and walk faster than others. Some cities also benefit from higher quality of life – warm, sunny climates, great coastlines, greater scenery – and amenities like great cultural institutions and restaurants – which enable them to attract affluent, ambitious, and talented people. How to parse the relative effects of productivity and quality of life?

Fascinating new research by David Albouy of the University of Michigan does just that, creating new measures of quality of life and looking closely at the relationship between productivity and amenities. He finds that amenities really matter to the location decisions of people, and that there is a relationship between productivity and quality of life. San Francisco, L.A., New York, and Boston are some of the cities that sit atop his list of high quality of life, high productivity places.

US News and World Report has a nice summary of his research. A paper on measuring quality of life is here; another examining the relationship between quality of life and productivity, here.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sat Jun 6th 2009 at 6:30pm UTC

Homo Urbanus

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Jane Jacobs long ago argued that cities are the cradles of civilization and of economic development and that density and human interaction hold the key to economic progress. The findings of a major new study published in Science finds that density is a key factor in the emergence of modern human behavior.

Increasing population density, rather than boosts in human brain power, appears to have catalysed the emergence of modern human behaviour, according to a new study by UCL (University College London) scientists published in the journal Science. High population density leads to greater exchange of ideas and skills and prevents the loss of new innovations. It is this skill maintenance, combined with a greater probability of useful innovations, that led to modern human behaviour appearing at different times in different parts of the world.

In the study, the UCL team found that complex skills learnt across generations can only be maintained when there is a critical level of interaction between people. Using computer simulations of social learning, they showed that high and low-skilled groups could coexist over long periods of time and that the degree of skill they maintained depended on local population density or the degree of migration between them. Using genetic estimates of population size in the past, the team went on to show that density was similar in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle-East when modern behaviour first appeared in each of these regions. The paper also points to evidence that population density would have dropped for climatic reasons at the time when modern human behaviour temporarily disappeared in sub-Saharan Africa.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Fri May 22nd 2009 at 8:30pm UTC

Where Suburbs Come From

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Wendell Cox writes (pointer via Planetizen):

Most suburban growth is not the result of declining core city populations, but is rather a consequence of people moving from rural areas and small towns to the major metropolitan areas. It is the appeal of large metropolitan places that drives suburban growth.

Larger metropolitan areas have more lucrative employment opportunities and generally have higher incomes than smaller metropolitan areas. This is particularly the case in developing countries. As a result, the big urban areas attract people seeking to escape what are often the stagnant or even declining economies in smaller areas.

A very Jane Jacobs insight, and one I find compelling.

In The Economy of Cities, Jacobs controversially argued that virtually all of economic growth traces back to cities: In her view, cities actually precede agriculture. Early cities, according to Jacobs, spurred agricultural development by providing trading centers for agricultural products.

While it’s common to think of suburbs as draining off city assets, today’s metropolitan areas with their urban cores and suburban and ex-urban rings, are really expanded cities. Up until the early-to-mid 20th century, cities were able to capture peripheral growth by annexing new development, until suburbs figured out they could prosper by becoming independent municipal entities – thus the now famous concentric-ring, or, in some cases, the hole-in-the-donut pattern of our metro regions. The growth of gargantuan mega-regions like the Boston-New York-Washington corridor is essentially the next phase of this process of geographic development.

It’s important to understand how these two interrelated geographic processes – outward geographic expansion and the more intensive use of existing urban space – combine to shape economic progress.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Wed May 20th 2009 at 8:34pm UTC

Globalization and Cities

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Ed Glaeser asks: “If the world is so flat, then why are cities growing so quickly, especially in the third world?” He explains:

In the developing world, urbanization has often taken the form of exploding populations in megacities. Mumbai’s population increased to 19 million in 2007 from 10.8 million in 1985. Bangalore, the urban symbol of the flat world, has had its population double over two decades, to 6.8 million today from 3.4 million in 1985.

The growth of these cities and the continuing strength of older urban areas – like New York, London and Paris – is no accident. Globalization and new technologies attract people to big cities, by increasing the returns to urban proximity …

Globalization and technological change have increased the returns to being smart; human beings are a social species that get smart by hanging around smart people.

This powerful clustering force – identified by Jane Jacobs and Robert Lucas, among others – is making the world more geographically concentrated everyday.

Figuring out ways to adjust to it – especially how to address the huge costs being borne by people and places being left behind – remains one of the most pressing domestic and international public policy questions of our time.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Thu Feb 26th 2009 at 1:42pm UTC

The Path to Prosperity

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

David Crane says innovation, not creativity, is the key to the future:

The big question in looking to Ontario’s future has to be: How do we create the climate for innovation that will lead to new industries and jobs based on new goods and services we can sell the rest of the world? This is where the report falls short.

Its focus on expanding the size of the so-called “creative class” runs into the law of diminishing returns, the same law that spells out the limits on physical capital accumulation.

While computers represented a big gain initially for the economy when they were first introduced, at some point additional computers had no value unless they were much better than the original computers.

Likewise, growth in the number of people with university degrees can bolster the economy, but at some point there is little need for an additional graduate if there is no job for him or her.

Unless there are new or expanding industries to hire these new graduates, simply increasing the supply doesn’t do much.

First off, let me say that while I am a big admirer of Crane’s writing, he’s dead wrong here. We are not just calling for more creative class jobs, but for increasing the creativity content of all jobs – service as well as manufacturing and agriculture too.  And that creativity does not spring from anywhere, but from real places that engender it and create the ecosystem to utilize it and put it to work.

A core focus of our work at the MPI is about why and how it is not enough to increase supply of creative work, but to build demand for it.  That too occurs in places. That is why we have to build new infrastructure and break with the old housing-auto-industrial complex (making housing and cars cheaper) to free up demand for the products and services of more creative work.  Our colleague Chris Kennedy and his collaborators have made a fundamental contribution here, and my recent Atlantic essay and a good portion of our ongoing MPI work picks up this challenge.

Crane then brings in a big gun, Stanford economist Paul Romer, to bolster his argument

In other words, as economist Paul Romer has emphasized in his work on innovation and economic growth, an economy cannot grow simply by accumulating more of the same.

Romer, who was a key figure in the economic growth program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, argued many years ago that “the increases in standards of living that we achieved in the last century were possible only because of the discoveries and innovation that let new physical capital and new human capital be put to work in high return activities.” So for him, “the most important job for economic policy is to create an institutional environment that supports technological change.”

In fact, Romer has argued, the nations that “are most successful in creating institutions that foster discovery and innovation will be the worldwide technological leaders.”

Innovation has to include greater investment by both government and business. A recent study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington found that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of innovations in the U.S. that are federally funded.

In other words, government plays a crucial role in fostering and facilitating innovation. The Ontario report fails to address innovation policy.

I’m a big fan of Romer. But on this score Crane is again wrong. Innovation, as I point out in Rise of the Creative Class, is not an end-in-itself, but a piece of a much larger and more fundamental category of human existence – creativity. It’s not government that fosters innovation, it’s the place itself. That is the shift our report urges and Ontario needs to make.

By way of background, the entire first part of my academic career was as a student of technological innovation. In 1990, I wrote a book on the limits of an innovation-oriented strategy, called The Breakthrough Illusion. My experience in Pittsburgh showed me once and for all how incredibly advanced and technologically innovative regions can fall behind. And not just Pittsburgh, places like Rochester and even Detroit continue to lead in terms of conventional measure of innovation like patents. Innovative, high-tech industries account for less than 10 percent of GDP – it’s pretty hard to build a robust, balanced, and prosperous economy around those.

That’s why we have come to focus on the 3Ts of economic development. Technology is the first T. It is a necessary but, in itself, insufficient condition for regional prosperity. To achieve sustainable prosperity a region needs two other Ts – talent as Romer’s work points out and tolerance – or openness to new people and new ideas.

Our report also points out that while Ontario does well as the third T, it does not do a good enough job of investing in or leveraging its first two Ts, especially technology. It points this out explicitly and challenges the province to do more.

But a classic 1990s innovation strategy of the kind Crane advocates is too limited – and experience shows it simply will not work.

We’ve run the data – over and over again. We’ve looked closely at measures of technological innovation, of  high-tech industry and the share of scientists and engineers. They are an important part of the economic prosperity equation but not all of it. Without a place that is open, that has an ecosystem that invests in and harnesses talent, that attracts and energizes new people, that creates demand for creative effort, technology and talent simply flow away.   Does Crane really believe that if we somehow build the world’s best innovation policy that would put us on the path to sustained and balanced prosperity? Real, enduring prosperity requires much, much more.

And that’s why Romer’s own thesis advisor, the Nobel-prize winner Robert Lucas, went back to Jane Jacobs. It’s not innovation that drives economic growth, according to Lucas and Jacobs, it is the concentration of creative people using and combining their full talents in real, dense, open places called cities – that, Lucas says, is the real underlying mechanism driving economic growth. And it’s for identifying this fundamental mechanism which he dubs “human capital externalities” or Jane Jacobs externalities that he said Jacobs deserved a Nobel prize of her own.  It’s place that’s the driving force. It’s place that provides the underlying framework and ecosystem for innovation and productivity growth. It does so by attracting people, by enhancing their creative capabilities, by being open to new people and new ideas, and by bringing us together in ways that make us far more innovative and productive than we would otherwise be.

Crane knows better. As someone who cares deeply about urbanism and real places, it’s hard to believe he falls into the trap of believing an absrtact and placeless innovation strategy can somehow bring us the long-run prosperity we need. We can do better than 1980s or 1990s thinking about innovation as the driving force of economic growth. We need to make people and place, not technological artifacts, the center of our dialogue and strategy.

That’s the underlying goal of our work. And it’s a big reason why we decided to set up the MPI in Ontario. Because this is a place which intituitively understands the need to go beyond technology to a broader, fuller approach that understands that enduring prosperity can only come by harnessing the full talent and capabilities of real people in real places. It’s in the very DNA of this province, this city and this place. Our goal at the MPI is to make Toronto a center for the new ideas and new thinking and new empirical research that a fuller understanding of the full gamut of technological, industrial, human, and place-based factors regional prosperity requires.

To do that we must do two things: One, we must tap and harness the full talent capabilities of every single person no matter where they work; and two, we must build a new way of living that breaks with the fordist auto-housing-industrial complex so that we can create large-scale demand for the products and services of the creative age.

That’s the essence of what  we’re up to here.

Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Mon Feb 9th 2009 at 5:36pm UTC

When Civilization Stops Trying

Monday, February 9th, 2009

I’ve been thinking about why civilizations quit trying. After the Renaissance, Western Europe went on to dominate the world, especially if we consider the U.S. as an offshoot of Europe. One reason for this is that the two major potential competitor civilizations, China and the Islamic world, seemed to leave the field at about the same time. Having both been ahead of Europe in science, arts, engineering, and business for the previous millennium they both more or less just stopped in their tracks.

Gavin Menzies’ popular books 1421 and 1424 tell of the huge Chinese fleets that traveled the world until the Emperor ordered them destroyed. In The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester talks about the “Needham Question” which is, “Why, after centuries of innovation and discovery, didn’t modern science continue to develop in China along with the West?”

In What Went Wrong? Bernard Lewis describes the glory of the Islamic empires and their decline. Again, they were far ahead of Christiandom in practically every field, but around the 1600s they became insular, stopped innovating, and fell behind.

In Dark Age Ahead Jane Jacobs worried that we might be headed down the same path with the devaluation of science and education. So looking at the current economic disaster, environmental catastrophe, etc., is this the beginning of the end? Have we gotten ourselves into a corner where we give up? And, if so, is it just America or world civilization that’s at risk?

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Fri Jan 23rd 2009 at 8:33am UTC

Where Do Cities Come From?

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Arnold Kling asks:

Today, we think of cities as places where people come to thrive. Wealth is higher in cities than in small towns and rural areas. Richard Florida tells us that the creative class is to be found in cities.

On the other hand, reading accounts of cities as of 1850 or earlier, they sound like death traps. People are less healthy in cities. Life spans are shorter. Poverty is Dickensian. I picture pre-modern cities the way I picture Russia today: people living off government assistance or criminal enterprise or sale of personal belongings; death at an early age; etc.

I wonder: who came to cities? Was it people without land? Were cities like an awful lottery that people would play when they had no other choice? A bunch of landless people gathered together to prey on one another, with the winners thriving (moving to the country as soon as they could afford it) and the losers enduring a Hobbesian existence, where life was nasty, brutish and short?

Did that make America in the eighteenth century seem like paradise, with its endless supply of land? Why were there cities in America? Was Jefferson’s preference for yeoman farmers a natural reflection of the relative state of urban vs. rural existence?

What would Jane Jacobs say?

In a series of famous passages, Jacobs argued that cities actually grew up alongside, and even before, advanced agriculture. It was cities – locations with dense, trading populations – that encouraged the transformation and modernization of agriculture. However difficult life might have been inside them, it was cities, according to Jacobs, that were the spur for modern economic growth and development.

Here’s a nice summary:

Jacobs contends that both animal husbandry and agriculture were most likely to have originated in the earliest urban settlements. Further, those settlements were the result of Paleolithic trade, and it was the intensification of trade in those early cities that paved the way for the development of agriculture and animal husbandry.

And another:

But don’t cities arise from and depend on agriculture? No: all economic progress originates in cities, Jacobs tells us; and cheekily adds that all agricultural progress originates in cities. Great advances, such as mechanical reapers and electricity, were invented and adopted in or near cities before being applied to agricultural regions farther out. Productivity improvements in agriculture always begin near the cities and spread out.

What we think of as purely rural activities often began in the cities. In premodern Europe, the quintessential cottage industry was weaving; but before cloth was woven in cottages the art was rediscovered and practiced in cities. Dark Ages peasants lived on gruel; the art of breadmaking was recovered first in cities (and based on city-grown bread; a medieval city had its own fields). In our own rural areas there are vast ranches where animals are fattened before slaughter; they are transplants from the city stockyards of Kansas City and Chicago.

Your thoughts?