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C200: Density = Economic Development

2011 March 30
by Eric Schinfeld

< Seattle's International District and beyond, from Beacon Hill - click to enlarge; photo: Dan Bertolet >

Denser cities are the ultimate economic development investment. But don’t take my word for it; ask physicist Geoffrey West:

[W]henever a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity, from construction spending to the amount of bank deposits, increases by approximately 15 percent per capita. It doesn’t matter how big the city is; the law remains the same. “This remarkable equation is why people move to the big city,” West says. “Because you can take the same person, and if you just move them to a city that’s twice as big, then all of a sudden they’ll do 15 percent more of everything that we can measure.” (emphasis added)

We already know that the largest 100 metropolitan areas in this country house two-thirds of our population and generate 75 percent of our GDP. But West’s insight is that it’s not just about large cities, but dense cities in particular:

In recent decades, though, many of the fastest-growing cities in America, like Phoenix and Riverside, Calif., have given us a very different urban model. These places have traded away public spaces for affordable single-family homes, attracting working-class families who want their own white picket fences. West and Bettencourt point out, however, that cheap suburban comforts are associated with poor performance on a variety of urban metrics. Phoenix, for instance, has been characterized by below-average levels of income and innovation (as measured by the production of patents) for the last 40 years.

Essentially, it’s fair to say the following statement: If you want a stronger economy, create a denser city.

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Eric Schinfeld is the Program Manager for Economic Development at the Puget Sound Regional Council. He is the lead writer for The Prosperity Blog, which focuses on Puget Sound economic development issues.

 

Density = Economic Development

 

Denser cities are the ultimate economic development investment. But don’t take my word for it; ask physicist Geoffrey West:

 

[W]henever a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity, from construction spending to the amount of bank deposits, increases by approximately 15 percent per capita. It doesn’t matter how big the city is; the law remains the same. “This remarkable equation is why people move to the big city,” West says. “Because you can take the same person, and if you just move them to a city that’s twice as big, then all of a sudden they’ll do 15 percent more of everything that we can measure.” (emphasis added)

 

We already know that the largest 100 metropolitan areas in this country house two-thirds of our population and generate 75 percent of our GDP. But West’s insight is that it’s not just about large cities, but dense cities in particular:

 

In recent decades, though, many of the fastest-growing cities in America, like Phoenix and Riverside, Calif., have given us a very different urban model. These places have traded away public spaces for affordable single-family homes, attracting working-class families who want their own white picket fences. West and Bettencourt point out, however, that cheap suburban comforts are associated with poor performance on a variety of urban metrics. Phoenix, for instance, has been characterized by below-average levels of income and innovation (as measured by the production of patents) for the last 40 years.

 

Essentially, it’s fair to say the following statement: If you want a stronger economy, create a denser city.

 

Eric Schinfeld is the Program Manager for Economic Development at the Puget Sound Regional Council. He is the lead writer for the Prosperity Blog, which focuses on Puget Sound economic development issues.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. April 2, 2011

    It wouldn’t take much to increase Seattle’s density, either. As you can see here:

    http://buildthecity.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/census-2010-city-of-seattle-household-density-map/

    There are large chunks of the city with fewer than 5 households per acre, and even more of the city with less than 10 households per acre.

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