Extreme concentration

Read in ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ (2013) of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley:


Yesterday there was a round table discussion in The Hague on the future of the so-called Randstad. Does the Randstad function as one polycentric network of cities? The discussion was mainly on innovation and agglomeration economies, I suppose. Most people in this country think you don’t need big cities in order to be innovative. Better connect the existing small cities, they say, a policy the Dutch call ‘borrowed size’. The province of Brabant even claims to be the most innovative region of Europe. Its biggest city is Eindhoven, with less than 220.000 inhabitants. “You just need a campus,” they seem to think. How wrong they are. People better read ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. Chapter 6 is on ‘The rise of innovation districts’. Their message: “Our open, innovative economy increasingly craves proximity and extols integration, which allow knowledge to be transferred easily between, within, and across clusters, firms, workers, and supporting institutions, thereby enabling the creation of new ideas that fuel even greater economic activity and growth.” What kind of proximity do they mean? “The vanguard of these megatrends is largely found not at the city or metropolitan scale writ large but in smaller enclaves, what are increasingly being called innovation districs.” It’s all about extreme geographical concentration, not campusses, but innovative city districts.

So the new hunger for knowledge and open innovation has huge spatial implications. The proximity effect can even be staggering. “Stuart Rosenthal and William Strange find that the intellectual spillovers that drive innovation and employment drop off dramatically as firms and people move more than a mile apart.” Institutions of knowledge such as universities, medical centers and innovation institutes tend to be disproportionately located in big cities. Isolated labs and suburban research parks are outdated. Midtown locaties, with anchor institutions in the middle, come to the fore. Katz and Bradley: “In many respects, the rise of innovation districs embodies the very essence of cities: an aggregation of talented, driven people, assembled in close quarters, who exchange ideas and knowledge in what the urban historian Sir Peter Hall calls a dynamic process of innovation, imitation and improvement.” Boston – three times the size of Eindhoven, with Harvard, MIT, Boston College etc. – is a great example in the book. The Kendall Square area is thriving, even the South Boston Waterfront area has become a true innovation ecosystem. What is needed: complexity, density, diversity of people and cultures, the messy intersection of activities, the layering of the old and the new, an integration of uses and acitivities. All that is lacking in the Randstad, everything is dispersed, no open innovation.





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