Productivity and Design Merge in the Gated City

Cover3 Since his publication in the New York Times' Sunday Review this past weekend, Economist magazine correspondent Ryan Avent has been showered with digital ink following release of his short book, "The Gated City." Based on his Sunday excerpt, it's clear his fundamental argument is that land use and productivity are inextricable.


The policy arena is stocked with arguments over which strategy or which sector provides the most efficient return for job creation (for a sample, search "jobs per dollar" on Google – although, as this commentary indicates, your results will be different than mine).

This dialogue, however, does not usually consider the spatial issues involved. How many jobs, and of what type, are created across a city or region? Employers rely on a workforce that is trained and educated, able to reach the workplace reliably, and able to transport a product – by rail, by digital means, or other mode of movement. Employers and the economies of which they are part also rely on relationships that form networks around industries, innovations, or particular skill areas. Success or failure in each of these areas is all about how our cities are designed and how intensely infrastructure is used.

It's relatively simple to evaluate job creation initiatives if direct public expenditures and jobs ("full time equivalents") are the only terms examined. As I suggested a few months ago, Steven Johnson and Ed Glaeser illustrate this would miss a substantial part of the essence of why and where jobs are created. The last few days' eruption of interest in Avent's message indicates we're headed for a more nuanced, comprehensive view of how urban design and productivity are linked. That's a very good thing.

*Postscript: Thanks to Ryan Avent for including this short post in his list of commentary pieces on the Gated City. See the others here.

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