Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rethinking Educational Attainment Rates

Got talent? Rightly so, every US metro is asking that question. Lou Glazer on how Michigan cities can address the need:

Creating places where talent — particularly mobile young talent — wants to live. This means expanded public investments in quality of place, with an emphasis on vibrant central-city neighborhoods. Young talent is increasingly concentrating in high density/walkable big city neighborhoods. (Think Chicago.) So for Michigan to become prosperous again, Detroit primarily and then Grand Rapids and Lansing/East Lansing must be talent magnets.

Emphasis added. Implicit in this recommendation is the value of talent density. The creative magic of the urban environment is all about living close to downtown. Knowledge doesn't travel very far. Face-to-face interactions rule. Serendipity is the mother of invention. It's all hogwash.

Migration and geographic mobility (to add commuting to the equation) comprise the magic of cities. I doubt residential density of people with college degrees has anything to do with innovation. What matters is the geography of talent employment. If there is a density/proximity dividend, then you would find it in the clustering of businesses in the urban core. Via Urban Demographics, the daytime population of London:

I downloaded the data, explored it and did a little 3D mapping of population density. The daytime population density figures for the City of London are quite staggering (350,000 people per square mile!). During the day, the population of Westminster is nearly 1 million - compared to about 250,000 permanent residents. The City of London only has about 11,700 permanent residents but its daytime population is 390,000. If you're looking for the London Borough with the most prams, then head to Newham - it has the highest number of children aged 0-4. If you're looking for overseas visitors, head to Westminster where you are bound to bump into one of the 65,000 or so who are there.

There's a lot of moving around in London on a daily basis. The job density is astounding. I'd bet that if not a soul lived in the City of London and Westminster that London as an economic powerhouse wouldn't skip a beat. How does that relate to college educational attainment rates?

Say your metro doesn't rank so high in terms of percentage of workers with a college degree. The competition is to attract/retain talent. The region must boost educational attainment. I think a better and more effective approach would be to entice more employers of knowledge workers to locate downtown. How many of these metro jobs are located outside of the urban core? What's your city's daytime talent density and how might you increase that number? When we talk about how cities can attract talent or be more creative in terms of residential value, we are going at the problem in the wrong way. We need a better understanding of how cities work.

1 comment:

Matthew Hall said...

I don't think the supporters of talent density only meant to refer to the density of people's legal residence. They meant density of all kinds of activity.