Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Richard Florida Explains Why Density Doesn’t Impact Innovation

The more parochial a place, the more ineffective the talent at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Innovation geography.

Subject Article: "How to Build a Productive Tech Economy."

Other Links: 1. "Triumph of the Entrepreneurial City."
2. "Science: Orkney – hot spot of the Stone Age."
3. "Natural Experiments Of Rust Belt History."
4. "Urban Myths of Innovation: Density and Serendipity."
5. "Migration Matters."
6. "Are These America's Brainiest Cities?"
7. "America's Truly Densest Metros."

Postscript: In 2010, Richard Florida wrote a series about density. I'm listing them here for personal reference because I'm trying to track how this concept is changing.

"The Density of Smart People."
"The Power of Density."
"Human Capital Density."
"Creative Class Density."
"The Density of Artistic and Cultural Creatives."
"The Density of Innovation."

So there is that. From the titles alone I would infer why so many people think greater density is the cat's meow concerning innovation.It's intuitive, like greater density causes more disease. Florida expressing the density dividend in stark terms:

But that was then; the economy is different now. It no longer revolves around simply making and moving things. Instead, it depends on generating and transporting ideas. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism. Velocity and density are not words that many people use when describing the suburbs. The economy is driven by key urban areas; a different geography is required.

Peter Gordon and Sanford Ikeda tackle such claims in "Does Density Matter?"

Of course, density, as we have defined it, remains important, and the kind of face‐to‐face contact and informal network‐building described by Jacobs still serves as the foundation of living cities today, as they ever have. But relying on crude measures of density to fashion policy, whether to promote economic development in the traditional sense or to foster growth by somehow attracting “creative” denizens is unhelpful.

That's hardly a definitive word on the debate, if there is a debate. Much of the density myth seems to spring forth from Jane Jacobs and her geography of innovation:

One of Jacobs’ four prescriptions for successful cities was “the need for aged buildings.” (The others were mixed primary use neighborhoods, short blocks and density.) Maintaining a mix of older housing and commercial stock, Jacobs believed, allowed neighborhoods to retain the diversity that she valued above all else. “New ideas,” as she put it so memorably, “must use old buildings.”

It is a utopian geography for cities: density, diversity, and authenticity. It is a certain kind of urban aesthetic that currently holds sway with policymakers thanks to the evangelizing of Richard Florida. But it isn't a rigorous analysis of the geography of innovation.

1 comment:

Matthew Hall said...

But if density doesn't cause innovation, it doesn't necessarily prevent it either. Density may be innovation neutral. You still haven't explained why dense places exist, and sometimes thrive. How do you explain Manhattan or the massive densification going on in downtown San Fran and dozens of other places in the U.S.? What IS driving densification if not the actual rewards of innovation for individuals, companies, and the areas they occupy? Is densification a response to high costs? More people per mile of road and sewer and water lines, for example.