Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Creative cities

The way that market participants create complex supply chains should amaze us.  Paul Romer famously noted (in Daedalus, 1994, not available online) that:
There have been 10**18 seconds since the Big Bang, and there are 10*88 particles in the known universe. Those are very large numbers … but they are dwarfed by the number of ways that things or ideas can be combined. Even something as simple as a deck of cards can be arranged in unimaginably numerous ways. There are 10**68 possible card decks, which means that any order you happen to shuffle has probably never appeared before.
I had prevsiously mentioned the Handbook of Creative Cities, David Emanuel Andersson, Ake E. Andersson and Charlotta Mellander, (AAM) eds.  Sandy Ikeda and I have a chapter in the collection, but I want to call attention to how the discussion made me go to Romer's story. 

The volume includes 26 chapters that elaborate on Richard Florida's work on creative cities and creative people.  I learned that Ake Andersson had written about the penomenon as early as 1985 in Swedish.  But Florida is the one who has made a splash. 

Many urban planners were inspired by Florida's work and concluded that planning for creative cities or districts is part of their repsonsibility.  But Randall Holcombe in Ch. 19 of AAM tells quite another story.  He argues (successfully, in my view) that "The idea of planning a creative city misses the whole concept of creativity" (p. 403).

Go back to combinatorics and complexity. Imagine a medium-sized city with one million population.  There would be about 250,000 parcels and (allowing for density options) at least 15 possible land uses (5 possible uses, each at a high or medium or low density).  That's 2.5**20 possible land use patterns. I doubt that the single global optimum is computable.  But cities survive by competing successfully.  Stick them with land use patterns that get in the way of productivity and the city loses.  It loses labor and capital as well as creative, entrepreneurial people.