Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Geography of Economic Tumult

The Atlantic has put up a series of interactive maps that let you track the relative economic power and influence of US cities over time.

The maps accompany an article by urbanist and pop sociologist Richard Florida. He makes a bunch of interesting predictions about the effects the economic meltdown will have on the geography of the United States. He thinks, for instance, that New York is positioned to come out okay - better than a lot of places, at least - thanks to its economic and cultural diversity. (Despite being the epicenter of the financial collapse, only 8% of New York's jobs are in finance; compare that to 18% in Des Moines, Iowa.) Indeed, he writes:
While the crisis may have begun in New York, it will likely find its fullest bloom in the interior of the country—in older, manufacturing regions whose heydays are long past and in newer, shallow-rooted Sun Belt communities whose recent booms have been fueled in part by real-estate speculation, overdevelopment, and fictitious housing wealth. These typically less affluent places are likely to become less wealthy still in the coming years, and will continue to struggle long after the mega-regional hubs and creative cities have put the crisis behind them.
The Rust Belt - the cities built on manufacturing in the 19th and 20th centuries, from Buffalo to St. Louis - is especialy likely to take it on the chin, and perhaps to never fully recover. More surprising is that the Sun Belt might get hit pretty hard as well. The vast arc of fast-growing states in the south and west will have some winners, like Charlotte and Austin, which have been adding jobs in the "creative class" sector. But the growth of other cities, like Las Vegas and Phoenix, has been mostly driven by construction and real estate - essentially, their growth has been based on their growth, which is not the most sustainable model in a recession.

Florida also makes prescriptions for the future, arguing that the suburban model of urban growth is past its prime and ill-suited to the developing creative economy; that homeownership should not be a goal of public policy; and that we should be cultivating growth in the burgeoning megaregions and the creative centers within them. Ultimately, he foresees this:
What will this geography look like? It will likely be sparser in the Midwest and also, ultimately, in those parts of the Southeast that are dependent on manufacturing. Its suburbs will be thinner and its houses, perhaps, smaller. Some of its southwestern cities will grow less quickly. Its great mega-regions will rise farther upward and extend farther outward. It will feature a lower rate of homeownership, and a more mobile population of renters. In short, it will be a more concentrated geography, one that allows more people to mix more freely and interact more efficiently in a discrete number of dense, innovative mega-regions and creative cities. Serendipitously, it will be a landscape suited to a world in which petroleum is no longer cheap by any measure. But most of all, it will be a landscape that can accommodate and accelerate invention, innovation, and creation—the activities in which the U.S. still holds a big competitive advantage.
Sounds good to me.


K H D and sometimes T said...

Interesting. I haven't read the article yet, but the maps are fascinating. I the population map most cities hit their peak in 1930, and have been shrinking steadily ever since. Then there are cities like LA, Houston, Miami, etc - cities you thing of as sprawl-opolises, that have done the opposite - all fairly southern too. Its amazing the way the map visualizes all those stories of urban flight, the growth of sprawl, etc.

I'm not so sure about the patent map though: it seems like a dubious marker at best, and misleading at worst. Majority of innovation is never patented at all. Then again, i don't know how else you put a number on a cities creativity - maybe you just cant.

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