Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Bigger social concerns"

What causes countries to prosper and grow? What causes cities to prosper and grow?

With respect to nations, we know that better institutions poise human capital to be productive. With respect to cities, we know that institutions as well as the spatial arrangement of human capital matter most.

The latter prompts agglomeration economies but their best spatial expression is not simple and depends on history. There are agglomeration economies in Manhattan as well as in Silicon Valley -- although no one would seriously advocate building the former from scratch today.

Today's NY Times includes Nicolai Ourousoff's "Skyline For Sale ... Frank Gehry and Bruce Ratner are proving how much influence architects have with developers and how troublingly little."

The piece concerns the proposed Atlantic Yards project for Brooklyn and allows Ourousoff to indulge in stale ruminations about art vs. Mammon. The author worries about the architect making a "pact with the Devil" by helping the developer to maximize profits(!). Ourousoff also worries that the powers that be in NYC are seemingly marginalized -- or their high-minded "bigger social concerns" have been marginalized.

This is silly. NYC government is nothing but a collection of interest groups who are very much involved in the process -- for better or worse.

The question unasked remains how the project impacts what matters, local institutions and the spatial arrangements of human capital. Nothing that we know compels optimism. Politicized mega-projects usually pull us in the wrong directions.