Saturday, January 28, 2012

Redefining Urbanization

I've tended to think of cities in terms of hierarchy, the relationship of goods and services across space. That's how I was trained. Blogging about brain drain for almost six years, I now see cities as products of migration. Density takes a backseat to the gravity drawing in people from elsewhere. Nigel Thrift on redefining urbanization:

[C]ities are increasingly both networked and perforated by information technology in ways which are bringing them together as actual forceful entities rather than as simply conglomerations. In some places, that process is purposeful (think of the example of Living PlanIT’s kitting out of a new town in Portugal). But more generally it is the growth of GIS, locative services, and telematics which is producing a gradual but definite change in how we think about cities–cities in which place defined by movement becomes a defining characteristic.

Emphasis added. Until I read that, I hadn't realized how far I've strayed from conventional urban economic geography. I should mention that Thrift is a part of a collection of bloggers (e.g. Ben Wildavsky) who are tracking the globalization of higher education. I contend that the transnational flow of university students is the defining feature of the Talent Economy. I would describe a city in terms of its migration connectivity profile. We can understand how the world works through the lens of migration.

For you Pittsburgh-centric readers out there, I see your city as well-positioned to take advantage of the emerging economic epoch. Like China, Pittsburgh is connected the rest of the world via talent exports. Pittsburgh is people, not a place.

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