The Yardstick

Innovation and Urbanism: A Winning Combination

March 23, 2012 | Tags: asia, cities, development, economy, europe, Germany, Global Fridays, growth, housing, innovation, land use, smart growth, social justice, urban planning, urbanism

How innovative is your metro area? Jonathan Rothwell over at The New Republic breaks down some new OECD data on inventors per capita and applications for patents by country and by metro area. Rothwell notes that ten metro areas, which comprise only about two percent of the world’s population, account for 24 percent of all patent applications!

The innovation leaders, in order, are: Tokyo, San Jose, New York, Boston, Kanagawa (Japan), Shenzhen (China), Osaka, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seoul. Rothwell also points out that certain countries are rich in having many innovative metro areas:

“Germany leads with 14 in the top 50, followed by Switzerland with eight. [The United States has is third with five]. Sweden and Israel are tied with four each. Finland has three, and Denmark, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom all have two. Austria, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Korea each contribute one. (The most innovative countries per capita are all small nations: Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Israel, and Denmark).”

Continuing with the theme of innovation: Will it lead to a triumph of the city? Noting that much of the innovation and economic growth in the developing world is happening as people migrate from rural to urban areas, Ezra Klein from The Washington Post places a domestic lens on the notion. Klein analyzes three recently published books on cities and urbanism by top thinkers on the subject – Ed Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, Ryan Avent’s The Gated City, and Matt Yglesias’ The Rent is Too Damn High – and finds that all three come to a similar consensus: people should have the ability to live in vibrant urban areas and to do so without going broke.

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It’s a particularly American argument rooted in the economic and productivity gains that urbanism produces as well as the importance of fairness and opportunity. As Klein effectively summarizes:

“They’re [the three authors] not arguing for pro-density policies. All three are careful to say that Americans should live where they want. They’re criticizing anti-density policies that make it effectively impossible for Americans to live where they want. The means should thrill the right, as the agenda effectively boils down to deregulation. The ends should engage the left, as the people who are priced out of the cities — and thus of the benefits they bring — are the poor and the middle class, not the wealthy.”