All hail urban density exceptionalism. I can trace the greater-density-begets-more-innovation back to Jane Jacobs and then Alfred Marshall. While in graduate school during the late 1990s, I noted that Jacobs and Saskia Sassen were very popular among urban geographers. This was new to me because I received the tradition discourse of urban geography as an undergrad, von Thünen and the like. I eagerly digested the seminar readings and didn't think much about them (save Sassen) after the semester ended. I was at the University of Colorado to learn about globalization and democratization. Jacobs didn't apply, or so I thought (geographer Peter Taylor says otherwise).
Whatever your stance on Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida has done a great deal to popularize her ideas. Florida now stands at the forefront of a movement that insists that dense cities are best suited for innovative (i.e. creative) activities. Last November, Florida promoting an urban agenda to the incoming Trudeau regime:
Over the past few years, however, venture capital and high-flying tech startups have undergone a fundamental urban shift that works to the advantage of Canada’s big cities. The locus of venture capital and entrepreneurial innovation has shifted from Silicon Valley’s sprawling suburban campuses and office parks to vibrant urban neighbourhoods in San Francisco, New York and London. These dense, diverse, urban neighbourhoods are home to the great research universities, key industries and consumers, and the top tech and creative talent that power innovation.
I argue that wherever you find great research universities, urban localities be damned, you can find a concentration of venture capital and innovation. All I hear is Jane Jacobs when I read "dense, diverse, urban neighbourhoods". Her prescription is Florida's. Thus, the shift of venture capital away from suburban sprawl to dense urbanity is rational.
More recently, Florida applies the Jacobs template to explain the migration of General Electric from suburban Connecticut to urban Massachusetts (Boston):
General Electric is the latest company to give up the suburbs for the city. News of GE’s move from its 1970s-style corporate campus in suburban Fairfield, Connecticut, to downtown Boston’s Seaport District has urbanists like me swooning. After all, it confirms much of what we’ve been saying for years: a massive corporation is moving to a dense, vibrant, walkable city center with abundant transit, lots of talent, superb universities, and great quality of place.
The basic geographic facts are irrefutable. But the rationale of the move is up for debate. Whatever the supposed density dividend is, GE moved to Boston thanks to bribery:
City Hall initially developed a property tax abatement valued at $8 million to $12 million in mid-November, according to documents the Walsh administration released Wednesday in response to a public records request from the Boston Globe. Over the next several weeks Boston officials increased the upper limit of the abatement to $15 million, and then again to a $20 million offer that was included in a memo addressed to a GE official dated Nov. 30.
The amount was subsequently increased to as much as $25 million over 20 years.
The urban revolution will be heavily subsidized. Like Texas exceptionalism, turns out that urban density exceptionalism isn't so exceptional after all. “We didn’t want them to walk away...At the end of the day, we wanted to make sure we closed the deal.”