At a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Urban Partnership earlier this year, keynote speaker Edward Glaeser, author of Triumph of the City, described the connection between population density and individual income. Across the planet, the greater the number of people per block, the bigger the individual paycheck. This strong correlation makes sense because of what Glaeser saw as the perfect fit between “tall cities” and our “flat world.” Economic development and collective and individual prosperity are more likely to thrive in cities, regardless of national policies or boundaries. Density is associated with higher wages and higher productivity.
TBR Blog is a space for commentary, opinion and reports on research in progress.
Cities, at their best, provide easy access to lots of ideas from a variety of people with diverse skills. As Glaeser described, the “chain of genius” is more likely to occur in cities, thereby fueling human innovation.
TBR 3, “The City,” our latest print supplement, appears this week inside copies of Boise Weekly. Read it there, or here and join us for a conversation on “creeping suburbanization” at 6 p.m., Friday, October 4 at Boise State Downtown, 301 S. Capitol Blvd.
Urban centers are also the site of complex, seemingly intractable problems such as climate change, unsustainable food supplies and poverty. The Denver meeting included representatives from business, government and higher education who convened to discuss ways to create and sustain vibrant urban centers which support economic development with an abundant supply of well-educated young adults.
“In the rest of this century, I suspect that getting our cities right will be one of the most pressing of the many lines of research that universities will have to engage with,” Nigel Thrift wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Getting our cities right” entails, first, that cities and universities embrace their connected future by sharing resources, agendas and sometimes addresses. Urban universities are well served by the “unpredictability of learning” that a downtown location provides. There are many creative examples of using the city as an urban lab, from downtown Las Vegas and Phoenix to Boise State’s new location in BoDo.
A city’s success, in turn, is ultimately based on the quality and sustainability of its human capital. According to Carol Coletta of ArtPlace, a national consortium of urban-focused foundations, income levels in cities are strongly correlated with education levels. Coletta cites stats from the “City Dividends” report that talent, in the form of an educated workforce, explains a majority of a city’s success, measured in per capita income.Therefore, getting cities right means that universities educate students to lead, work and contribute to a city that provides an attractive quality of life. There are educational and civic partnerships, including academic fellowships, to support education and job placement for this supply of younger talent.
Second, getting cities right means we need to broaden the conversation on economic development to go beyond the usual suspects of technology, engineering and business. Our messiest problems, such as access to clean drinking water, will require both technological and social innovation and social scientists are in the best position to help translate science research into policy.
Finally, getting cities right means finding ways to be organizationally nimble, to allow for experimentation with new initiatives and unconventional partnerships. Cities and universities possess formidable bureaucracies which can quickly kill innovation if not kept in check. Downtown campuses can offer a unique area for innovation and experimentation.
As this issue of The Blue Review confirms, cities offer a lot of grist for the scholarly mill. Our urban centers are expected to be an economic engine, business incubator and idea generator. At urban public universities, we must pay attention to fueling this engine. In fact, anyone interested in the future of the city should also be interested in sustaining a successful university.
We hope you enjoy this issue.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.