Sunday, July 01, 2012

Density Versus Migration

Density or migration, what makes cities hubs of innovation? The crux of the debate is that knowledge doesn't travel well. I'm starting with the same assumption when I claim it is migration that matters. The density dividend is muddled. Residential density is often conflated with occupational density. With so many wealthy brains living in the suburbs, I don't understand why urbanists are so excited about the positive link between college educational attainment rates and prosperity. Stamford, Connecticut.

I realize I'm out on a limb all by myself. Cities. Density. Wealth. End of story. If you are talented, best get your ass to New York. Permit me to go over the rainbow and visit with an innovation commune in Cupertino, California:

The Rainbow Mansion, named for its address on Rainbow Drive in Cupertino, was founded in its current communal housing form in 2006. Three friends, who met at a conference in Vienna about space, landed in Silicon Valley around the same time, each getting jobs at Nasa’s Ames Research Center. They decided to move in together, saw the Rainbow Mansion listed on Craigslist, and found four roommates to join them.

People moved in and out over the years until the last original resident, Will Marshall, 33, moved out in February, leaving the mansion in the hands of the next generation. “It’s the flux of people that keeps the ideas going,” he says.

He rejoined the other two members of the original Rainbow trio, Jessy and Robbie Schingler, who married shortly after their Rainbow-dwelling days, to form a new communal house in San Francisco called the Elements, this time named for the professional interests of several inhabitants who work in wind, water and solar energy.

For them, communal living is a movement. Schingler, 30, a PhD student in computer science, talks of “scaling” the lifestyle into a global network of communal houses with a shared mission of “having a positive impact on the world”. She calls it the Embassy Network. She imagines physicists, mathematicians and engineers from San Francisco travelling to Berlin for a conference and dropping in the local communal house for a few nights, tapping into an immediate network of like-minded locals.

Emphasis added. Reading the Financial Times article, I can see the case for density. Where else but Silicon Valley? Proximity is so valuable that the best talent feels the need to cram into a mansion. Case closed.

More important than the shared living space is the "flux of people". The "global network of communal houses" is the diaspora model. Geography is annihilated, not reaffirmed. San Francisco and Berlin are the best of neighbors.

Innovation isn't agglomerating. It is globalizing. Affinity interests connect people all over the world. Churn or burn.

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